Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies on Wednesday, July 26, 2023 before the House Judiciary Committee. (Screenshot from committee webcast)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday faced off with Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, who did not directly call for his impeachment but strongly criticized his oversight of the agency.
“I know that today Secretary Mayorkas is going to try to paint a rosy picture of this disastrous mismanagement of our border. But nothing about the Biden administration’s policy is safe, orderly, or humane,” Chair Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said. “The numbers don’t lie.”
House Republicans have held multiple hearings about immigration at the Southern border as part of their broader strategy to impeach Mayorkas on the grounds that he has failed to enforce U.S. law. Multiple impeachment resolutions have been introduced and co-sponsored by dozens of Republicans.
House GOP members have also floated the idea of impeaching President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland. During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Monday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, suggested that House Republicans could be headed toward impeachment hearings for Biden.
On Tuesday, McCarthy again floated the idea that impeachment of Biden could be considered in light of questions Republicans are raising about Biden family finances, The Associated Press reported.
Democrats spent much of the five-hour-plus Judiciary hearing pushing back against Republicans’ claims about migration at the U.S. Southern border and defending DHS practices.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, said Republicans used the hearing as a “baseless attempt to impeach Secretary Mayorkas.”
“To be clear, Republicans have not established any legitimate grounds to impeach Secretary Mayorkas, they’ve not uncovered evidence of wrongdoing or malfeasance of any kind,” Nadler said. “They have policy disagreements with this secretary.”
Mayorkas argued that the Biden administration’s policies at the border are working to deter unauthorized immigration, citing the use of parole programs for certain nationals and a new policy established after the end of pandemic-era immigration enforcement tool known as Title 42 that restricts asylum. A federal judge Tuesday blocked that policy, and the Department of Justice has appealed the decision.
“Under President Biden’s leadership, we have led the largest expansion of lawful, safe and orderly pathways for people to seek humanitarian relief under our laws, at the same time imposing tougher consequences on those who instead resort to the ruthless smuggling organizations that prey on the most vulnerable,” Mayorkas said.
There has been a decline in recent months in unauthorized border crossings, with the most recent data from May showing a 15% decrease compared to May 2022, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania said that each day hundreds of people die from overdoses, with a majority of those from illicit fentanyl. Mayorkas said that DHS has focused on seizing fentanyl at ports of entry.
“We have a serious problem,” Dean said. “We don’t have folks on the other side of the aisle serious about solving it.”
The National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that deaths “involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise with 70,601 overdose deaths reported in 2021.”
“We are leading an unprecedented effort to interdict the flow of fentanyl into our communities, which has escalated for more than five years,” Mayorkas said.
Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado told Mayorkas that his constituents consider Mayorkas a “traitor” because of the fentanyl crisis.
Republican Rep. Thomas Tiffany of Wisconsin accused Mayorkas of having an “open border policy,” and asked him if that has led to an increase in fentanyl in the U.S.
“We have interdicted more fentanyl at the ports of entry than in the prior administration,” Mayorkas said, adding that there is not an open border policy.
Outdated immigration system
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Jordan grilled Mayorkas on his directive that focuses on removing undocumented people with a criminal record.
The Supreme Court in June overwhelmingly agreed that the Biden administration has the legal authority to prioritize arresting and deporting noncitizens who have recently crossed the border without authorization and noncitizens who pose a threat to public safety.
“So long as you don’t commit a crime, you get to stay here and burden our schools, burden our social services, burden our jails,” Gaetz said.
Mayorkas said because there are anywhere between 11 and 12 million undocumented people in the country, it would not be feasible for the agency to focus its resources on deporting people who have not committed a crime. He added that the agency has deported more than 1.4 million people who did not have legal status.
Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia pushed back and said that “MAGA Republican extremists want to sell us on an apocalyptic fantasy,” and “want us to believe that the border is out of control.”
“But in reality, the greatest threat facing our homeland is white nationalist ideology,” Johnson said.
Republican Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina asked Mayorkas if under his tenure the cartels have “become stronger or weaker.”
“Our efforts have weakened those cartels by the investigations and prosecutions that we have conducted with our international partners,” he said.
Democrats argued that there is only so much that DHS can do, because Congress has failed to update immigration laws.
“Our colleagues across the aisle have made clear with their tone and questions today that their primary interest is in scapegoating you and the Biden administration for the consequences of Congress failing for decades to address either the root causes of immigration at our Southern border … and (the) all but complete collapse of the U.S. immigration system,” Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania said.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said with the issues Mayorkas inherited from the Trump administration and Congress’ inability to pass immigration reform, it’s led to record levels of backlogs in the immigration system.
She asked Mayorkas about the impact of expanding legal pathways such as the parole systems that allow up to 30,000 migrants each month from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua who have U.S.-based financial sponsors and pass a background check.
“Our approach is to expand lawful pathways so that individuals who qualify for relief under the laws of this Congress do not have to place their lives and their life savings in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers,” Mayorkas said.
Questions about speech online
Several Republicans such as Reps. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Thomas Massie of Kentucky pressed Mayorkas about the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
CISA was formed in 2018. The agency is tasked with improving the government’s cybersecurity against private and foreign hackers, along with overall strengthening of the government’s cyber infrastructure across all agencies.
Johnson charged that CISA suppresses speech online, mainly that of conservative voices. He cited a case filed by former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, in which a federal judge earlier this month prohibited the Biden administration from communicating with social media platforms about “protected speech.”
Mayorkas said the agency does not “censor free speech,” and that the purpose of the CISA is to identify and track adverse nations that weaponize disinformation, which is when someone purposely spreads false information.
Massie asked Mayorkas if it was illegal to “undermine public trust in government institutions.”
Mayorkas said that DHS does not get involved in speech surrounding ideology, only if that ideology is connected to violence. He said the agency does evaluate certain ideologies.
“What we get engaged in is a connectivity to violence,” he said. “It is our responsibility to prevent violence from occurring.”
An example he gave was the conspiracy theory that 5G cell towers were connected to the coronavirus. DHS became involved and issued warnings to the telecom industry because they believed there could be attacks to cell towers.
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