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US House votes to impeach Biden's immigration chief

February 14, 2024

The symbolic move is expected to be nullified on reaching the Senate, where the Democrats have a slim majority. It comes amid continued tensions on migration policy, ahead of November's presidential race.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas takes his seat to testify before a Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on the department's budget request on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 26, 2021.
Republicans in Congress blame Mayorkas for the record number of illegal migrants crossing in from the border with MexicoImage: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

The US' Republican-led House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to impeach Democratic President Joe Biden's top border official, with migration policies taking center stage ahead of November's presidential election.

Conservatives blamed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for a surge in crossings of illegal migrants from the US-Mexican border. The vote narrowly passed with 214 in favor and 213 against.

It was the second attempt to impeach Mayorkas. Last week's impeachment attempt failed, in the absence of Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who was receiving cancer treatment.

Scalise attended Tuesday's session and gave the motion the decisive vote.

Mayorkas' impeachment is the first of a Cabinet secretary in some 150 years.

The move is however symbolic, as the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate, where the Democrats are narrowly in the majority, is expected to abort it.

On what basis was Mayorkas impeached?

The impeachment motion accused Mayorkas of failing to enforce US immigration laws, which Republicans argue has led to record migration figures at the US border to Mexico. They also say the Homeland Security Secretary made false statements to Congress.

"Next to a declaration of war, impeachment is arguably the most serious authority given to the House and we have treated this matter accordingly," said House Speaker Mike Johnson. "Since this secretary refuses to do the job that the Senate confirmed him to do, the House must act."

Biden's tenure has seen a record number of migrants illegally cross in from the Mexican border. Former President Donald Trump has turned migration to a focus of his campaign against Biden.

Mayorkas has in turn blamed illegal migration on Congress failing to update migration laws.

"There is no question that we have a challenge, a crisis at the border," Mayorkas told broadcaster NBC over the weekend. "And there is no question that Congress needs to fix it."

As migrants head north, US faces political challenge

What has been the reaction to the impeachment?

The impeachment has been lambasted by Democrats, President Biden, and even some Republicans.

"History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games," Biden said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers Ken Buck, Tom McClintock and Mike Gallagher voted against it.

As Biden implied in his statement, some have questioned whether the impeachment demonstrated evidence of Mayorkas committing the "high crimes and misdemeanors" that are supposed to trigger impeachment, or whether he was being pulled into a partisan policy dispute.

"Without a shred of evidence or legitimate constitutional grounds ... House Republicans have falsely smeared a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 20 years enforcing our laws and serving our country," Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said in a statement.

rmt/msh (AFP, Reuters)