Ariana Figueroa, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
January 18, 2024
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans Thursday held a second hearing on the impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, even as Mayorkas works to reach a deal on changes in immigration law with a group of senators.
Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee argued that Mayorkas has not upheld his oath of office because he enforces Biden administration border policies, and that alone should be an impeachable offense.
Two of the Republican witnesses who testified, both mothers, said that administration immigration policies played a role in their daughters’ deaths.
“These crimes were wholly preventable, yet Secretary Mayorkas’ policies enable these criminals to enter our country and destroy these family’s lives. It’s despicable,” GOP Chair Mark Green of Tennessee said. Green did not indicate how many more hearings would be held before Republicans move on an impeachment resolution.
One mother who testified, Tammy Nobles, from Maryland, lost her daughter in 2022. A minor, who was a noncitizen, was charged with the sexual assault and murder of Kayla Hamilton.
Another witness, Josephine Dunn, of Arizona, lost her daughter, Ashley Dunn, in 2021 from a fentanyl overdose.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, argued that the hearing was not a real impeachment inquiry. “It’s a predetermined, pre-planned partisan political stunt,” Thompson said.
Ian Sams, special assistant to the president and White House oversight spokesperson, said in a statement that Republicans were moving forward with impeachment to appease the far right.
“Beyond the shameless partisanship of attempting to scapegoat a Cabinet secretary who is actively working to find solutions to a problem Congressional Republicans have spent years refusing to actually solve, this stunt by House Republicans is just the latest example of their blatant disregard for the Constitution and our democratic system of government,” Sams said.
Mayorkas negotiating immigration deal
The hearing came as a group of bipartisan senators and Mayorkas is working to strike a deal on immigration policy in order to pass a multibillion global security package to aid Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and U.S. border security.
At issue in those talks is the Biden administration’s use of parole authority to grant temporary protections to certain nationals and some migrants at the Southern border.
While the House impeachment proceedings were ongoing Thursday, the Congressional Hispanic and Progressive caucuses held a press conference disapproving of changes to asylum law and limits on parole authority.
At the beginning of the hearing, Democrats argued that Republicans were not following proper procedures.
Thompson and Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman of New York said that if the committee was moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, then under those rules, Democrats are supposed to have a separate hearing where they can bring their own witnesses, rather than only having one witness.
The witness Democrats tapped was a constitutional law scholar, Deborah Pearlstein, the director of the Princeton Program in Law and Public Policy and Charles and Marie Robertson visiting professor of law and public affairs.
“There’s an interpretation disagreement on this,” he said. “Our parliamentarian says that you’re entitled to witnesses and not a specific hearing.”
Mayorkas not present
Republicans argued that Mayorkas violated his oath of office given the increase in migrants claiming asylum.
Since fiscal year 2024 began on Oct. 1, there have been more than 483,000 encounters with noncitizens at the Southwest land border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
GOP lawmakers also criticized Mayorkas for being absent from the hearing. Mayorkas has agreed to appear before Congress and was not at Thursday’s hearing because he was meeting with officials from Mexico’s government to discuss border enforcement, according to DHS.
Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, who also chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked the GOP witnesses, Nobles and Dunn, if they believed Mayorkas had violated his oath.
Both agreed and said they personally held Mayorkas responsible for the deaths of their daughters.
Rep. Clay Higgins promised that Mayorkas would be impeached.
“As God is my witness, we will impeach that man in this committee,” the Louisiana Republican said.
Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Gimenez questioned Pearlstein about whether Mayorkas could be impeached under “dereliction of duty.”
Pearlstein said in her testimony that there have only been two occasions in U.S. history where officials were charged with “dereliction of duty,” in 1804 and 1873.
“In both of those cases, the charges alleged that the officials were either chronically inebriated or mentally incapacitated, or both,” she said. “In short, neither involved a case in which Congress was simply dissatisfied with the official’s performance in office; both involved officials who were at base physically or mentally unable to carry out their duties.”
Pearlstein said that there is “no remotely comparable evidence of Secretary Mayorkas’ incapacity (that) has been presented here.”
Gimenez asked if it would be an impeachable offense if someone “fails to uphold their oath to protect the homeland and does it in a way that it’s a dereliction (of) duty.”
Pearlstein said in general it could be conceivable, but “I don’t know if there is evidence here of dereliction,” in terms of Mayorkas.
She added that “dereliction of duty,” is also different from “failure to comply with the oath.”
“Impeachment is only about a certain category of offenses,” she said. “It only addresses a certain category of offenses — it has to be an offense similar to treason or bribery, that is, an offense against the system of government, not any ordinary criminal offense, something that disrupts the structure of the Constitution or system of government.”
Democrats see a lack of evidence
Maryland’s Democratic Rep. Glenn Ivey said the hearing was a distraction from actually working on border policy.
“If there is no evidence that the Republicans have presented about actual impeachment, the standard and the Constitution being violated, we should not be moving forward with this,” he said.
Rhode Island’s Democratic Rep. Seth Magaziner made similar comments, and argued that Republicans have the opportunity to address border security in the supplemental talks.
“Where have House Republicans been in those talks?” he said.
Those negotiations are only between the Senate and the White House, and Speaker Mike Johnson met with President Joe Biden and those negotiators Wednesday. Following that meeting, Johnson said that border security needs to be included in any supplemental package.
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who first introduced the resolution to impeach Mayorkas for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” argued that House Republicans have put forth policy changes, with the passage of H.R. 2 back in May of last year.
That bill is dead on arrival in the Senate and includes the reimplementation of several harsh Trump-era immigration policies.
“They want more money to help more migrants come into the country,” Greene said of Democrats’ border security funding request. “It’s unfortunate that it’s about migrants, it should be about Americans.”
She added that if Mayorkas is following Biden’s policies, then “maybe we should be holding articles of impeachment on the president.”
Greene has already introduced articles of impeachment against Biden. She asked Pearlstein if Mayorkas or Biden should be impeached.
Pearlstein said that the Constitution is not for impeaching officials over policy differences.
“We’re not talking about the Constitution,” Greene said.
Nevada’s Democratic Rep. Dina Titus said she found it interesting that Greene “actually had the gall to say, ‘We’re not talking about the Constitution.’”
“She’s the one who entered the resolution that we are considering, so if we’re not talking about the Constitution, what are we talking about?” she said. “We’re wasting our breath … It’s a political stunt.”
Florida’s Laurel Lee asked both mothers what Congress could do to prevent the tragedies they experienced.
Nobles said that she wants migrants to be vetted and go through a background check. An Office of Inspector Generals report found that while U.S. Border Patrol within U.S. Customs and Border Protection followed protocol in “screening procedures to prevent migrants with serious criminal backgrounds” from entering the country, agents could strengthen the process in maintaining a noncitizen’s file.
The noncitizen minor who was charged with her daughter’s murder had a prior criminal record in El Salvador, Nobles said.
“They failed Kayla by not checking her murderer’s background,” she said. “I know Americans commit crimes on other Americans, but why do we have to take other countries’ trash? Why do we need them?”
Dunn said that she wants military personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We need our military at the border stopping the drugs, stopping people from coming in,” Dunn said.
Oklahoma’s GOP Rep. Josh Brecheen asked Nobles if DHS notified her that the minor charged with her daughter’s murder had ties with MS-13, a gang.
“It took the local detectives to find out he was MS-13,” she said, and explained that came after DNA testing.
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