Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other officials were on the defensive Tuesday as Senate Republicans became more vocal about their efforts to back impeachment for the secretary.
Mayorkas’s appearance before the Senate Homeland Security Committee sparked the usual heated exchanges and personal attacks now common in such forums, but the GOP posture escalated as Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) pledged to soon introduce a vote of no confidence resolution for the secretary.
House efforts to launch an impeachment of Mayorkas have been simmering for some time, with GOP lawmakers arguing he has failed to successfully manage the border amid an uptick in migration. But an official inquiry has yet to be launched, and those efforts have recently taken a back seat to debt ceiling talks.
But Marshall on Tuesday suggested a need to buoy that process in the Senate, where it is expected to make little progress given the Democratic majority.
“I stand at the ready to receive articles of impeachment from the House and conduct an impeachment trial in this body,” Marshall said. “But in the meantime, I think the Senate must show our colleagues in the House that we've had enough of the failures from the Department of Homeland Security and believe that the Secretary is not fit to faithfully carry out the duties of his office.”
Mayorkas at one point attempted to respond, asking to take a point of personal privilege, but Marshall objected, saying, “I want you to answer my questions, not give me lectures.”
Mayorkas, given an opportunity by the next speaker, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), declined to respond.
“I just want to take a moment to ask my colleagues here today to treat the secretary with the respect he deserves,” Carper said, noting Mayorkas’s integrity, work ethic and dedication to a complex job.
“I was raised — my guess is most of the folks in this committee were raised — to treat other people the way we want to be treated. I wouldn't treat anybody the way that I've seen you treated before in other committees and again here by at least one of our colleagues today.”
At other turns during the hearing, GOP lawmakers sought to hold Mayorkas personally responsible for various issues at the border.
"Do you not care? Do you not just have an ounce of human compassion for what your open border policy, the kind of human deprivation it is causing?” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said.
Mayorkas would later defend the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts to stem migratory flows, pointing to a program that largely blocks nationals from Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba from seeking asylum but allows those with U.S. sponsors to apply to enter the U.S.
Various GOP lawmakers zeroed in on a recent New York Times article delving into the extent Biden administration officials were aware unaccompanied children were being trafficked into child labor.
The care of children who arrive at the border without their parents spans multiple agencies, with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for vetting the sponsors who ultimately care for them.
At one point, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has also called for Mayorkas’s resignation, accused Mayorkas of “pressuring officials and agencies to skip the vetting process and get these kids out as soon as possible to sponsors who weren't vetted.”
The Times story does not reference Mayorkas and primarily focuses on the roles of HHS and high-ranking White House officials in the matter.
“Senator, I look forward to discussing this issue further because you are misstating the facts so terribly,” Mayorkas responded.
Mayorkas also shot back when Hawley accused him of letting thousands of children into the country to be exploited, pointing to a Trump-era policy of separating parents from their children.
“It is stunning to me, stunning, to hear you say that the prior administration reunited children with their parents,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas at another point said lawmakers, including Johnson, were “disparagingly mischaracterizes our commitment to address trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals, including children."
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) offered a defense of Mayorkas and DHS, saying that senators must not forget the role of corporations hiring the migrant child labor outlined in the Times investigation.
"It is the employers breaking child labor laws,” Padilla said. “We should not misplace the blame here."
Mayorkas was one of several officials called before Congress on Tuesday to discuss immigration-related matters.
HHS officials appeared before both the House’s Energy and Commerce and Oversight committees, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson appeared before House appropriators.
Much of the discussion with Johnson surrounded the number of detention beds funded through the ICE budget, a figure that determines the extent the agency is able to house people in detention centers versus other means of supervision. President Biden’s budget cut detention capacity by about a quarter.
At various points during the hearing, Johnson said he would like to see funding for a greater number of beds than covered in the budget but acknowledged that the agency simply would not be able to detain all those who may be slated for deportation.
Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) said that would undercut the administration’s ability to remove people from the country as their immigration cases work their way through the court system.
“If it's easier to remove people once they're in detention, and you've agreed with that, and I agree with that, but yet we have a budget which is actually shrinking detention beds. I find that counterproductive,” Guest said.
“As these additional cases work their way through the system, we're going to see those numbers grow exponentially. And it just doesn't seem to me that we either don't have the resources or we don't have the policies in place to enforce the law.”
Johnson said even when the agency has rapidly expanded the number of beds in the past “we filled those beds up in no time.”
“So I personally don't think there's a number of beds that you can actually buy that's going to solve this problem that we're seeing,” he said.
At another point, Johnson was asked about the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit, which works to combat cartels and other transnational crime.
Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) pointed to reporting that HSI staff at one point proposed separating from ICE, arguing the agency’s reputation made it difficult to carry out their work.
Johnson said he opposes siphoning off the unit, but backs giving them “flexibility” to minimize their affiliation with ICE, saying efforts like removing the “ICE” part of their email address has proven helpful.
“One of the things we did this year was to give HSI the flexibility to use whatever branding they felt was necessary to increase cooperation in the communities. So in other words, if removing the ICE moniker completely and just using the HSI brand was going to result in greater cooperation, they had the flexibility to do so,” he said.
But Underwood said those moves failed to address the underlying problem.
“ICE has the responsibility to proactively and intentionally build trust in the communities that you serve,” she said.
“And so I think that this is an area where the agency definitely needs to do more.”
Nick Robertson contributed reporting
Updated: 2:28 p.m.