House Republicans on Sunday released two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as they vowed to swiftly push forward with election-year efforts to oust him over what they call his failure to manage the U.S.-Mexico border. The rare step against a Cabinet member drew outrage from Democrats and the agency as a politically motivated stunt lacking the constitutional basis to remove Mayorkas from office.
Republicans contend Mayorkas is guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that amount to a “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” on immigration and a “breach of the public trust.” Impeachment, they say, is “Congress’s only viable option.”
“Alejandro N. Mayorkas willfully and systemically refused to comply with the immigration laws, failed to control the border to the detriment of national security, compromised public safety, and violated the rule of law and separation of powers in the Constitution, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States,” the impeachment resolution says.
Only once in American history has a Cabinet secretary been impeached: William Belknap, President Ulysses Grant’s war secretary, in 1876, over kickbacks in government contracts. Going after an official for a policy dispute, in this instance over the claim that Mayorkas is not upholding immigration laws, is unprecedented.
Ever since taking control of the House in 2023, Republicans have pushed to impeach Mayorkas. Sunday’s announcement comes as their other impeachment drive — to impeach Democratic President Joe Biden in relation to his son Hunter’s business dealings — has struggled to advance.
But Republicans have moved with rapid speed against Mayorkas after a series of hearings in recent weeks. It all comes at a time when border security and immigration are key issues in the 2024 campaign and as Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is promising to launch the “largest deportation operation” in U.S. history if he returns to the White House.
The Republican-controlled House Homeland Security Committee is set to vote Tuesday on the articles of impeachment, aiming to send them to the full House for consideration. Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has said the House will move forward as soon as possible with a vote after that.
Passage requires only a House majority. The Senate would hold a trial, and a two-thirds vote is required for conviction, an exceedingly unlikely outcome in the Democratic-run Senate.
The GOP push also comes at a curious time for Mayorkas.
Even as the House is taking steps to try to remove him from office, Mayorkas has been engaged in arduous negotiations with senators seeking to reach a bipartisan deal on border policy. He has won praise from senators for his engagement in the process.
Democrats have lambasted the impeachment proceedings, calling them a waste of time when lawmakers should be working together to solve the problems. They also say Republicans are part of the problems at the border, with Republicans attacking Mayorkas even as they have failed to give his department the tools it needs to manage the situation.
“They don’t want to fix the problem; they want to campaign on it. That’s why they have undermined efforts to achieve bipartisan solutions and ignored the facts, legal scholars and experts, and even the Constitution itself in their quest to baselessly impeach Secretary Mayorkas,” the department said in a statement Sunday.
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House committee, said the GOP resolution did not have “a shred of evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors –- the Constitutional standard for impeachment.”
The two articles mark the culmination of a roughly yearlong examination by Republicans of the secretary’s handling of the border and what they describe as a crisis of the administration’s own making. Republicans contend that the administration and Mayorkas specifically either got rid of policies in place under Trump that had controlled migration or enacted policies of their own that encouraged migrants from around the world to come to the U.S. illegally via the southern border. They also accused Mayorkas of lying to Congress, pointing to comments about the border being secure or about vetting of Afghans airlifted to the U.S.
They cite growing numbers of migrants who have at times overwhelmed the capacity of Customs and Border Protection authorities to care and process them. Arrests for illegal crossings topped 2 million in each of the U.S. government’s past two budget years. In December, arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico reached an all-time high since figures have been released. The backlog of people in immigration court has grown by 1 million over the past budget year.
In the articles, Republicans argue that Mayorkas is deliberately violating immigration laws passed by Congress, such as those requiring the detention of migrants, and that through his policies, a crisis has arisen at the border. They accuse him of releasing migrants without effective ways to make sure they show up for court or are removed from the country. They cited an Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo written by Mayorkas that sets priorities for whom the agency should target for enforcement proceedings as proof that he is letting people stay in the country who don’t have the right to do so.
They also attacked the administration’s use of the humanitarian parole authority, which allows the DHS secretary to admit certain migrants into the country. Republicans said the Biden administration has essentially created a mass parole program that bypasses Congress. They cited cities such as New York that have struggled with high numbers of migrants, taxing housing and education systems, as proof of the financial costs immigration is taking.
Democrats, as well as Mayorkas, have argued that it’s not the administration’s policies that are causing people to attempt to migrate to America but that the movement is part of a global mass migration of people fleeing wars, economic instability and political repression. They have argued that Mayorkas is doing the best he can to manage border security but with a system that hasn’t been updated in decades and is chronically underfunded.
The department on Sunday cited high numbers of people being removed from the country, especially over roughly the last six months and its efforts to tackle fentanyl smuggling as proof that DHS is not shirking its border duties. And, they said, no administration has been able to detain every person who crosses the border illegally, citing space capacities. Instead, they focus on those who pose security threats.
“A standard requiring 100% detention would mean that Congress should have impeached every DHS Secretary since the Department was founded,” the agency said in the statement.
It was almost 150 years ago when the House voted unanimously to impeach Belknap on five articles of impeachment that he had criminally disregarded his Cabinet duties and used his office for private gain. Belknap had resigned earlier that same day, March 2, 1876. After a trial in the Senate, a majority of senators voted to convict him but they didn’t have enough votes to hit the necessary two-thirds majority and Belknap was acquitted.