Biden’s border chief under fire as Republicans kick off impeachment hearing

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will come under scrutiny on Wednesday as a Republican-led House of Representatives committee moves to impeach him over allegations he has encouraged illegal immigration with overly lax policies.

Republican attorneys general from Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma will testify at a hearing focused on the Republican claim that Mayorkas – Democratic President Joe Biden’s top border official – has refused to enforce immigration laws passed by Congress.

It is extremely rare for a U.S. Cabinet secretary to be subject to impeachment. The only secretary to ever be impeached was former President Ulysses Grant’s secretary of war in 1876 following allegations of corruption.

Border security is a core issue for Republican base voters and the party has intensified its criticism of Biden’s policies in the run-up to Nov. 5 elections that will determine control of the White House and Congress. Biden is seeking another term and Republican former President Donald Trump, an immigration hardliner, is the leading candidate for his party’s nomination.

Republicans in Congress have refused to pass additional military funding for Ukraine and threatened a possible government shutdown unless Democrats agree to stringent border controls.

Since Biden took office in 2021, U.S. border agents have made more than 6 million arrests of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The Biden administration has dismissed the effort to impeach Mayorkas as a political ploy and says there are record levels of migration in the Western Hemisphere as people flee poor economic conditions, violence, corruption and extreme weather.

Trump was impeached twice by the then Democratic-controlled House in 2019 and 2021 but was acquitted both times by the Senate. Republicans, who took control of the House in 2021, have weaponized impeachment in recent weeks, also launching an inquiry into whether Biden improperly benefited from his son Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings.

Mayorkas, a former U.S. attorney and the first Latino homeland secretary, does not face any criminal allegations. Instead, Republicans have portrayed his policies as an existential threat to U.S. national security.

Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said the allegations against Mayorkas do not meet the high impeachment standard outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

“If dereliction of duty or incompetence could become a basis for impeachment, it would have been used a lot more over the years,” said Gerhardt, who served as a Democratic special counsel during Trump’s 2021 impeachment trial.

House Republicans strongly support the impeachment effort but can only afford to lose a small number of votes with a 220-213 advantage over Democrats. Even if Mayorkas is impeached by the House, he is unlikely to be convicted in a trial in the Democratic-majority Senate.

During a visit on Monday to Eagle Pass, Texas, Mayorkas called on Congress to reform immigration laws and provide more funding, stressing the importance of border security.

“There is nothing that I take more seriously than our responsibility to uphold the law,” he said.

Mayorkas was invited to testify at a second impeachment hearing planned for Jan. 18 but has not yet confirmed attendance, a congressional aide said.

The three Republican attorneys general set to testify on Wednesday have all joined lawsuits targeting Biden administration border and asylum policies.

Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law school professor critical of the Mayorkas impeachment effort, also will testify.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Nick Zieminski)