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What to Know About House Republicans’ Push to Impeach Mayorkas

7 minute read

A panel of Republicans approved two articles of impeachment early Wednesday against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, setting up a historic vote in the House even as some Republicans denounce the effort as unfounded.

The rare impeachment resolution, approved on party lines by the House Homeland Security Committee, charges Mayorkas with failing to properly enforce the nation’s immigration laws and breaching public trust amid a recent surge in illegal immigration. A formal impeachment vote could be held on the House floor as soon as next week, further escalating the political battle over illegal immigration as Republicans make border security a top election issue.

If Mayorkas is impeached, he would become the first Cabinet member to be impeached in almost 150 years, and just the second in history, though he would almost certainly be acquitted in the Democratic-led Senate. 

Republicans launched their investigation into Mayorkas last June, claiming that he made false statements to Congress, obstructed congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, and implemented insufficient border policies. Legal experts and Democrats have said the evidence against Mayorkas does not meet the constitutional impeachment threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors, arguing that Republicans are abusing impeachment to address policy disputes.

Mayorkas, who was not allowed to testify publicly in his own defense due to scheduling disputes, defended his record in a letter to the committee and called on Congress to provide a legislative solution to the border crisis. "You claim that we have failed to enforce our immigration laws," he wrote. "That is false."

"I will defer a discussion of the Constitutionality of your current effort to the many respected scholars and experts across the political spectrum who already have opined that it is contrary to law," Mayorkas continued. "What I will not defer to others is a response to the politically motivated accusations and personal attacks you have made against me."

Here’s what you need to know about the GOP’s push to impeach Mayorkas.

What are the charges?

The impeachment articles charge that Mayorkas “willfully and systematically refused to comply with Federal immigration laws” amid a record surge of migrants in recent months and that he has “breached the public trust” by claiming to Congress that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure.

Republicans allege that Mayorkas has disregarded laws passed by Congress, ignored court orders, and allowed the surge of migration by ending several Trump-era immigration policies. The House Homeland Security Committee has largely focused its efforts on the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which mandates that migrants who are not admissible to the U.S. “shall be detained” pending their removal or a decision about their claims to asylum.

“Instead of complying with this requirement, Alejandro N. Mayorkas has implemented a catch-and-release scheme, whereby such aliens are unlawfully released,” the first impeachment article reads. It also states that Mayorkas has “repeatedly violated laws enacted by Congress” and allowed “millions of aliens” to illegally enter the U.S. each year.

The charges also include accusations of his alleged failure to detain all migrants deemed deportable on criminal or terrorism grounds and his use of parole authority, which allows migrants temporary protections without a visa. Republicans claim that he “willfully exceeded” his parole authority by allowing various groups of migrants to enter the country, though the executive branch has had this authority since the 1950s.

Read More: As Trump Vies to Blows Up Border Deal, Migrant Crisis Could Get Worse

In his letter, Mayorkas pushed back against these claims and noted his efforts to increase deportation flights, upgrade technology used to detect fentanyl, and restrict asylum access for migrants who bypass legal pathways to the U.S. “Undoubtedly, we have policy disagreements on the historically divisive issue of immigration," Mayorkas said. "That has been the case between Administrations and Members of Congress for much longer than the past 38 years since the last overhaul of our immigration system."

The second article of impeachment accuses Mayorkas of obstructing the GOP’s investigation into his handling of the border and knowingly making false statements about the U.S.-Mexico border. “Mr. Mayorkas lied to Congress,” Chairman Mark Green of Tennessee said, citing Mayorkas' statements to lawmakers that the border is “secure,” that the Department of Homeland Security has “operational control” of the border as defined in the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and that the Afghans placed into a humanitarian parole program were properly vetted following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Republicans also claim Mayorkas “supported a false narrative that U.S. Border Patrol agents maliciously whipped illegal aliens” after a 2021 image appeared to show agents on horseback with whips as Haitian migrants ran. An internal report later found that the agents did not whip the migrants.

“He’s come to this Congress and he’s given testimony before that was demonstrably false, stating that our border was secure, stating that he had operational control of the border when in fact, every person in this room, and I dare say the vast majority of America, knows that is not the truth,” GOP Rep. Laurel Lee of Florida said during Tuesday’s hearing.

"I assure you that your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me from the law enforcement and broader public service mission to which I have devoted most of my career and to which I remain devoted," Mayorkas wrote.

Experts have criticized the impeachment probe

Critics of the effort say that Republicans have not offered enough evidence to reach the high bar of impeachment, which typically encompass severe offenses such as corruption, abuse of power, or subversion of the U.S. Constitution.

“In a process akin to throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, Republicans have cooked up vague, unprecedented grounds to impeach Secretary Mayorkas,” Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the committee, said on Tuesday.

Read More: Experts Blast Mayorkas Impeachment Probe for Lack of Evidence

Legal experts previously told TIME that policy disputes do not meet the constitutional impeachment threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. Frank Bowman, a professor emeritus of law at the University of Missouri School of Law, testified at a committee hearing this month that the Constitution gives Congress “a wealth of legislative powers” to change border policies and that “impeachment is not one of those powers.”

"Dislike of a president's policy is certainly not one of [the grounds for impeachment],” he said.

What happens next?

The articles of impeachment are now headed to a vote on the House floor, though a date has not yet been set. House Speaker Mike Johnson has indicated that he would hold the vote “as soon as possible.”

If the articles are approved by the House, Mayorkas would face an impeachment trial in the Senate, where he'd almost certainly be acquitted. He's currently working with a bipartisan group of senators on a border deal.

Why some Republicans are worried

While Republicans seek to make immigration the issue central to the 2024 presidential election, not all members of the GOP are supportive of the efforts to impeach Mayorkas. At least two Republican lawmakers—Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Tom McClintock of California—have expressed reservations about the proceedings, acknowledging the need for more concrete evidence or legal justification before pursuing such a significant action.

"I do believe there has to be some very, very egregious act that is...just like a crime," Buck, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, told CNN on Tuesday. "In my view, Secretary Mayorkas has not committed that and I'm a lean no at this point. I'm still open-minded."

Speaking on the House floor in November, McClintock warned Republicans against “redefining” impeachment in part because it would set a precedent for future impeachment efforts against Republicans. “The next time Democrats have the majority, we can expect this new definition to be turned against the conservatives on the Supreme Court and any future Republican administration,” he said. “And there will be nobody to stop them, because Republicans will have signed off on this new and unconstitutional abuse of power.”

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Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com