G.O.P. Immigration Agenda Faces Stiff Odds in Divided House
WASHINGTON — House Republicans, intent on pressing ahead with their top campaign promises on immigration, turned a hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas into an impeachment-focused interrogation and advanced restrictive border security legislation on Wednesday, despite significant G.O.P. opposition that could kill both initiatives on the House floor.
“You have not secured our borders — and Mr. Secretary, I believe you have done so intentionally,” Representative Mark E. Green, Republican of Tennessee and the Homeland Security Committee’s chairman, told Mr. Mayorkas during a hearing before his panel. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee lobbed similar accusations at Democrats to justify a series of new border policies that would further restrict migrants’ ability to seek asylum.
Democrats have denounced the Republicans’ parallel efforts to oust Mr. Mayorkas and pass legislation to clamp down on illegal border crossings as “political theater,” particularly since there is no viable avenue for either to gain traction in the Democrat-led Senate.
But the more immediate obstacle facing House G.O.P. leaders lies within their own ranks: There are not enough Republican members yet on board with either impeachment proceedings against Mr. Mayorkas or the border security legislation to avoid potentially embarrassing defeats on the House floor.
The border bill “has a long way to go before it hits prime time,” Representative Tony Gonzales, Republican of Texas, told reporters this week, warning that it would be foolhardy for G.O.P. leaders to press ahead with immigration legislation that stood no chance of passing Congress, given the party’s slim majority in the House.
More on U.S. Immigration
- Pursuing an Impeachment: The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee promised donors that he would produce an impeachment case against Alejandro Mayorkas, the Biden administration’s homeland security chief, over his immigration policies.
- An Unusual Move: Senator Bob Menendez, one of the loudest Democratic critics of the Biden administration’s immigration policies, said that he had delivered to the White House a list of recommended actions to address illegal migration at the southern border in a more humane way.
- DACA: President Biden said his administration would expand health care coverage for nearly 600,000 immigrants who were brought to the country as children and are covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“In this Congress, five votes is 100,” he said.
Immigration is a politically potent issue for most Republicans, who have seized on the record levels of illegal migration on the southern border; the concurrent spikes in incidents of child labor, as documented by The New York Times; and the Biden administration’s decision to cease construction of the border wall as evidence of malfeasance, particularly by Mr. Mayorkas. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, has threatened the secretary with potential impeachment, and earlier this month, Mr. Green told Republican donors that he would produce a case against Mr. Mayorkas showing his “dereliction of duty.”
At the center of the G.O.P.’s criticisms of Mr. Mayorkas is an assertion that he lied under oath when testifying to a congressional panel in 2022 that the border was secure.
To buttress that point, Republicans have drawn on testimony from Chief Raul L. Ortiz of the Border Patrol, who told the homeland security panel last month that the government did not have operational control of the border, under a statutory standard of “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States.”
Mr. Mayorkas has testified that neither he nor the Homeland Security Department use that definition, and that his and Mr. Ortiz’s statements were thus not in conflict. On Wednesday, he doubled down on his assessment, testifying that “the border is secure — and we are working day and night to make it more secure.”
Democrats leaped on the testimony, chastising Republicans for trying to make an impeachment case out of a political disagreement.
“There is absolutely nothing that I’ve seen here today that amounts to a false statement under oath,” said Representative Dan Goldman of New York, a former prosecutor who led the House Democrats’ first impeachment case against Donald Trump.
A small but potentially pivotal group of House Republicans has also expressed unease about removing Mr. Mayorkas over what those lawmakers think is fundamentally a policy dispute, not an abuse of office. Such Republicans could make or break an impeachment vote, since the G.O.P. cannot afford to lose more than four votes on any issue.
“This is really Joe Biden’s policies, more than Mayorkas, and are we going to impeach the president on this? No,” Representative Don Bacon, Republican of Nebraska, said in an interview.
There is a similar simmering mutiny at the margins of the G.O.P. when it comes to efforts to pass border security bills that committee leaders have pledged to put on the House floor by early next month.
The Judiciary Committee’s bill, which advanced out of the panel Wednesday night on a largely party-line vote, has prompted objections from some Republicans over a requirement that employers use a work eligibility program known as E-Verify. This has alarmed advocates of the farming industry, which relies heavily on undocumented immigrant labor. E-Verify checks documents provided by new hires against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records.
It’s necessary to “have a legal pathway for people to come in and be able to work,” said Representative Dan Newhouse, Republican of Washington State, himself a farmer, in an interview. He noted that Congress would have to authorize new immigrant visas alongside mandating E-Verify to avoid a devastating blow to the agricultural sector.
Some border-state Republicans like Mr. Gonzales have also warned against severely restricting legal pathways into the United States.
“We’re against the chaos, but we are a group that is in support of legal immigration,” he said this week.