If governing amid the chaos of migrants crossing the southern border is an impeachable offense (it’s not), then it’s members of Congress, mostly Republicans, who deserve condemnation — not a Cabinet secretary.
They, along with since-departed lawmakers of recent decades, are the ones responsible for our dysfunctional immigration system: Congress has consistently failed to provide immigration officials with enough funding and legal power to stem, vet and process in an orderly way the increasing number of people yearning for opportunity in the United States. The border problem is not new, it’s just worse than ever.
As Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas told Senate Republican critics last year: “Our asylum system is broken, our entire immigration system is broken and in desperate need of reform. And it’s been so for years and years.”
But instead of taking some responsibility and addressing the problem, House Republicans are flaying a scapegoat — Mayorkas — for their own election-year advantage and that of their lord and master, likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The full House is expected to vote next week on the two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas that the Homeland Security Committee approved along party lines late Tuesday.
If enough so-called moderate Republicans go along, the resolution would go to the Democratic-controlled Senate, which will no doubt acquit Mayorkas because the charges of dereliction of duty are bogus. Even so, House Republicans would have an election-year dog-and-pony show about an issue that’s become a top concern for voters, in particular their party’s MAGA base.
The politics nonetheless are stupid — why focus on Mayorkas rather than his boss? Here’s why: because they don't have the goods or the votes to impeach President Biden. South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman said the quiet part out loud when he explained in November that his fellow Republicans “need to focus on what they can get — Mayorkas is easier than impeaching the president of the United States.”
Republicans’ overt politicking in impeaching a Cabinet secretary for only the second time in U.S. history is bad enough. “Get the popcorn,” Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican, told party donors last April, adding, “It’s going to be fun.”
What’s doubly damning is they’re impeaching Mayorkas even as they’re allied with Trump to kill a bipartisan bill that the Cabinet secretary negotiated with senators of both parties, and that would be the toughest immigration law in memory, with added billions for just what the Republicans say they want: more border security.
Not since President Reagan signed a landmark 1986 immigration act has Congress been able to agree on policies to better control the migration waves, despite presidents of both parties trying their darndest to get new laws signed and more funds approved. Republicans doomed compromises under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.
Bush’s second-term Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, nodded to Congress’ sorry record when he came to Mayorkas’ defense this week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Despite insufficient resources, the Department of Homeland Security under Mayorkas “removed, returned or expelled” more migrants in late 2023 than in any similar period of the past decade, he wrote.
“The truth is that our national immigration system is outdated, and DHS leaders under both parties have done their best to manage our immigration system without adequate congressional support ...,” Chertoff added. “House Republicans are ducking difficult policy work and hard-fought compromise.”
Chertoff is also a former federal judge, which gives weight to his charge that Republicans “have failed to put forth evidence that meets the bar” for impeaching Mayorkas under the Constitution’s “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” clause. In that, he echoed other conservative lawyers who know the difference between legal evidence and political claptrap, including Jonathan Turley, Republicans’ and Fox News’ go-to constitutional authority. “Being bad at your job is not an impeachable offense,” Turley said of Mayorkas.
Indeed, Republicans’ resolution alleging the secretary’s “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” and breach of the public trust is nothing more than mumbo-jumbo for what’s really a run-of-the-mill policy disagreement.
“Mayorkas is carrying out President Biden’s policies. That’s what a secretary is going to do,” said Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the lead Republican in the closed-door negotiations for a border bill. “Until we change the law … we’re going to have the same results.”
Given their bare majority in the House, Republicans can only lose two votes on the impeachment resolution if the tally falls along party lines, and several Republicans are on the fence. Rep. Tom McClintock, who’s among several California Republicans running in swing districts, wrote his constituents late last year that the authors of the Constitution explicitly rejected “maladministration, malfeasance, and neglect of duties” as impeachable offenses.
Mayorkas isn’t even guilty of maladministration. An immigrant himself — he came to the U.S. as an infant when his parents fled Castro’s Cuba — he has lived the American dream, rising to become the widely respected (except by partisans) chief of the department in charge of immigration.
As Rep. Seth Magaziner, a Rhode Island Democrat, noted during the House committee’s impeachment debate, Congress has so inadequately funded border security that Mayorkas, like his predecessors, has had to use discretion as to how many migrants to detain, and which ones. “In the last two years of the Trump administration,” Magaziner said, “52% of migrants apprehended at the southern border were released, not detained. … I did not hear my Republican colleagues trying to impeach the secretary” then.
No, they didn’t. And they shouldn’t now. Instead, they should act like legislators and legislate: Solve problems, not campaign on them as they worsen.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.