Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he will be cooperative with House Republicans’ attempt to impeach him and said that his critics’ assertions that the border is not secure are based on a literal interpretation — “if one person successfully evades law enforcement at the border, then we have breached the security of the border” — and not the Department of Homeland Security’s goal of operational control under a “broken” immigration system that the department cannot control.
“I guess my response is twofold. Number one, I’m not going to resign,” Mayorkas told Chris Wallace on “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? On HBO Max and CNN” in a wide-ranging interview that debuted Friday on HBO Max. “There’s a tremendous amount of work to do. And we are doing it and I’m incredibly proud to do it alongside and in support of 260,000 extraordinary personnel in the Department of Homeland Security, number one. Number two, I call upon Congress, as the president has done, as this nation has done, to actually fix an immigration system that has been broken for decades.”
A resolution was introduced in August 2021, just six months after Mayorkas became the leader of DHS, by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to impeach him “for high crimes and misdemeanors related to his actions regarding border security and immigration.” That garnered 32 Republican co-sponsors but ultimately went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled House.
Two anti-Mayorkas resolutions have been introduced in the 118th Congress, where Republicans now hold a slim majority. The first was introduced Jan. 9 by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) and has 41 co-sponsors; the second was re-introduced by Biggs on Feb. 1 and has 30 co-sponsors. Both have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
Congress hasn’t impeached a Cabinet secretary since 1876. Because DHS doesn’t have lawyers with impeachment experience, and in order to help Mayorkas keep his focus on the day-to-day threats handled by the department, DHS has “retained outside counsel to help ensure the department’s vital mission is not interrupted by the unprecedented, unjustified, and partisan impeachment efforts by some Members of Congress, who have already taken steps to initiate proceedings,” a spokesman told Politico.
“I take them seriously,” Mayorkas told Wallace of the calls for impeachment. “…I don’t dismiss it by any measure. But what I do is I focus on my work.”
Mayorkas said he does not believe he has done anything to warrant impeachment, but “I intend to appear when Congress calls me to do so… I don’t have any intention of being uncooperative.”
“I think it is a disagreement over policy,” he said when asked about the Republicans’ basis for calling for his impeachment. “And I think it is used for political purposes to continue a negative dialogue about a migration challenge that is not unique to the United States, to continue that dialogue to uplift it for political reasons.”
“Your critics point out in 2020, Donald Trump’s final year in office, U.S. border authorities encountered migrants 458,000 times at the border,” Wallace said. “But under Joe Biden in 2022, there were 2.3 million encounters. Mr. Secretary, that’s an increase of 419 percent. That’s more than quadruple. How can you say the border is secure?”
“A couple points. What was the volume of encounters in 2019 during the Trump administration, it wasn’t 400,000, it wasn’t 800,000, it wasn’t a million, it was many more,” Mayorkas replied. “What was it in 2020 that impacted the flow of migrants? What caused the pent-up demand to leave a country that is suffering extreme poverty, extreme violence, authoritarian regime, what was the repressive factor in 2020? The pandemic. Right now the United States has millions of jobs opening due to the economic success of this administration. We have progressed in conquering the pandemic far more than the countries to the south of Mexico. And that makes the United States an appealing place of destination for people fleeing persecution or otherwise in desperate need of a better life.”
By the measure of some people being able to get into the country illegally, “the border has never been secure,” Mayorkas said, but “there is not a common definition” of whether the border is “secure.”
“What our goal, is to achieve operational control of the border, to do everything that we can to support our personnel with the resources, the technology, the policies that really advance the security of the border, and do not come at the cost of the values of our country,” he said. “And I say that, I say that, because in the prior administration, policies were promulgated, were passed, that did not hew to the values that we hold dear.”
“That’s a point well taken, but on the question of security, on the question of people’s ability to come across the border illegally and get into this country, we have all seen the scenes of floods of people walking across shallow points in the Rio Grande,” Wallace responded. “We’ve all seen the pictures of encampments in downtowns in El Paso, places in Arizona. We’ve all seen the pictures of the flood of migrants coming to New York and you’ve got Mayor Adams, the Democratic mayor of New York City, saying he’s overwhelmed by migrants. By those standards, it is not a secure border.”
“Chris, I would say that by those standards, what powerful evidence of the fact that our immigration system is broken?” Mayorkas replied. “The vast majority of those individuals have not sought to evade law enforcement, but have actually surrendered themselves to law enforcement and made a claim for relief under our laws. The challenge is that between that time of encounter and the time of an ultimate immigration judges’ evaluation of their claim for asylum is four-plus years. That is one of the reasons why we so desperately need our immigration system to be fixed.”
Migrants remaining in the country while their claims of asylum are being processed is “a problem with our system” and “not an issue of how we enforce the security of our border,” the secretary said.
“I don’t think the more than 1.5 million people who have been removed or expelled from the border would consider the border open,” Mayorkas added. “But political leaders communicate that the border is open. That is music to the smugglers’ ears.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in its most recent monthly statistics report that a new parole program intended to stem the tide of migration flows from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua is working as total encounters at the southwest border dropped nearly 40 percent in January from the previous month. And encounters with CBP between ports of entry dropped 42 percent, from 221,675 in December to 128,410 last month — the lowest figure since February 2021, when migration flows began increasing after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayorkas said the parole program, modeled after similar programs for Venezuelans and Ukrainians, is “sound policy that is proving effective” in response “to a dramatic change in the demographics of the people who are arriving at the border.”
“Historically, it was predominantly from Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. Of late, we have seen a tremendous rise in the number of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Cubans. That poses a significant challenge because of the absence of diplomatic relations with those three countries and we can’t remove them,” he said. “So on January 5, we responded to that with these, with this parole program that says, ‘apply in advance to the United States. We will cut out the smuggler. If you qualify after being fully screened. If you have a sponsor here in the United States, then you can be brought to the United States in a safe, lawful and orderly manner. If you don’t avail yourself of this opportunity. If you come in between the ports of entry, you will be expelled’ and the success of it is quite powerfully demonstrated thus far.”
Mayorkas’ mother fled the Nazis from Romania to Cuba, and then his parents escaped Cuba when Mayorkas was 1 year old to come to the United States — instilling in the DHS secretary “the profound meaning of displacement” and “the fragility of life.”
“We in the United States, have tremendous pride in our country as a country, a place of refuge. We are a nation of immigrants. We are also a nation of laws,” he said. “Those laws provide for humanitarian relief. For those who qualify. They also provide that individuals who do not qualify will be removed. That’s how, that’s how we do our work in the Department of Homeland Security.”