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GOP's threat to impeach Homeland Security chief is ridiculous, but real

As he cobbled support for his run for Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy said Alejandro Mayorkas should resign or face potential impeachment.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

If you thought Republicans had done all the political grandstanding they could do on immigration, then Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona just proved you wrong. Biggs, aligned with House Republicans who profess to be outraged at what they call the weaponization of the federal government, obviously isn’t opposed to weaponizing Congress. Biggs announced Wednesday that he’s introducing articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was appointed to the position by President Joe Biden in 2021.

If you thought Republicans had done all the political grandstanding they could do on immigration, then Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona just proved you wrong.

The Constitution allows a Cabinet secretary to be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” What has Mayorkas done that falls into either of those two categories? According to Biggs, who is politically aligned with some of the country’s most xenophobic anti-immigration groups, Mayorkas has lost “the public trust” when it comes to the U.S.-Mexico border.

This is not the first time Biggs has pursued this strategy. He filed an article of impeachment against Mayorkas in August 2021, barely six months after Mayorkas was sworn into office. Biggs argued then that Mayorkas was “a threat to the sovereignty and security of our nation.” But it was all a symbolic charade then. Now that Republicans control the House, the impeachment threat is real. In November, in an obvious attempt to get far-right conservatives such as Biggs to support his bid for House speaker, Kevin McCarthy said, “If Secretary Mayorkas does not resign, House Republicans will investigate every order, every action and every failure, [and] will determine whether we can begin impeachment inquiry.”

Adding to the threat is Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, serving as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The committee's website Wednesday prominently featured a story from the Daily Mail with this headline: “Border war comes to Capitol Hill: Lawmakers clash as top Republican Jim Jordan claims crisis is INTENTIONAL — while Democrats say ‘MAGA’ GOP is racist for highlighting migrant surge.”

In a story about how Republicans might make a case for impeachment, CNN last month quoted Rep. Mark Green, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, who said he has a “five-phase plan” to hold the Biden administration accountable for what Republicans deem to be the Biden administration’s inaction at the southern border. And if his committee determines that “is necessary,” he said, “we’ll hand that over to Judiciary.” 

The line has been drawn, and even though it appears that not all House Republicans are on board with the Mayorkas impeachment circus, it is crystal clear that the GOP in general will keep exploiting the immigration card to falsely portray Mayorkas and the Biden administration as open-border radicals. Jordan and other Republicans who are opposed to more people crossing the border should be thanking Mayorkas for maintaining the awful Title 42 policy for as long as the administration has. Given their xenophobic tendencies, they should be thanking Mayorkas and the Biden administration for creating stricter measures for asylum-seekers. But doing that, of course, would topple the simplistic Republican narrative about "open borders."

Jordan and his allies appear not to realize, or simply won't admit, that Mayorkas and Biden have already made a political move that will make their orchestrated committee debates irrelevant. Biden announced last week that the nation's Covid emergency measures will end in May. Title 42 will also likely end by then but not before new measures to curb migration are fully in effect. Biden’s more restrictive policy shift, which 77 Democratic lawmakers have rightly criticized, contributed, according to The Washington Post, to a dramatic decline in border crossings in January. To any accusation that he’s been negligent, Mayorkas can easily point to data indicating that Homeland Security is getting “tough” on the border.

That toughness has been widely condemned by human rights groups, and it is a sad example of how Biden has acquiesced to Republicans who’ve made political hay out of their exaggerated claims of migration chaos. Still, it might help fend off Republicans’ impeachment crusade. 

The expectation that migrants be treated as criminals is why Mayorkas, who is himself an immigrant from Cuba, won’t challenge the system he has inherited.

As I’ve repeatedly argued, both parties are to blame for criminalizing migration and promoting an enforcement-heavy response. And now Republicans are arguing that Mayorkas is guilty of the crime of not criminalizing migration enough.

The expectation that migrants be treated as criminals is why Mayorkas, who is himself an immigrant from Cuba, won’t challenge the system he has inherited but argue that he can only do so much from inside it.

“Within a broken system, we are doing everything that we can to increase its efficiency, to provide humanitarian relief when the law permits and to also deliver an enforcement consequence when the law dictates,” he said Tuesday on MSNBC. “That is exactly what we are doing. And as far as I am concerned, I will continue to do that with tremendous pride in the people with whom I work.”

While it is politically expedient for Mayorkas to blame the current situation on existing laws, DHS is not an organization tailored to be humane to migrants. The agency itself was created in response to 9/11, and until Americans question whether the agency does anything to make our immigration situation better, we will be stuck with what Mayorkas correctly calls our “broken system.”

If Biggs and his fellow Republicans were honest actors, then they’d thank Mayorkas, not only for the recent tough restrictions that the Biden administration is carrying out but also for more generally choosing to work from within that inhumane system instead of pushing to dismantle it. Biden and Mayorkas should be fighting Republicans' ideas on immigration. Instead, they're adopting them.