By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
Republican lawmakers slammed President Joe Biden’s border policies on Wednesday and laid the groundwork for an impeachment case against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the first of a series of hearings on immigration since seizing control of the House.
Over the course of Biden’s presidency, Republicans have repeatedly criticized the administration over the handling of the US-Mexico border, where an influx of migrants has stretched federal resources. Critics argue the historic number of arrests is evidence of Biden’s policies not working despite the administration largely using the same protocols as the Trump administration, principally a Covid-era border restriction.
Now, with a House majority and leadership on key committees, Republicans plan to raise those criticisms in congressional hearings and seize on an issue that’s been a political vulnerability for the president, beginning with Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan criticized Biden’s border policies at the outset of the committee’s first hearing this Congress, making clear the Republican’s intent to underscore what the GOP has described as a crisis on the US-Mexico border over the course of the more than three-hour hearing.
Jordan kicked off the hearing with a series of figures, including the record number of migrant encounters at the border and number of people flagged for being on the terror watchlist — arguing that the data is evidence of the administration’s failed border policies.
US border authorities encountered migrants more than 2.3 million times along the US-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022, according to US Customs and Border Protection data. Of those, more than 1 million migrants were turned away at the border.
“These numbers make clear that the Biden administration does not have operational control of the border,” Jordan said. “Month after month after month, we have set records for migrants coming into the country and frankly, I think it’s intentional.”
Republican lawmakers have argued that Mayorkas’ claims of having operational control of the border are unfounded and that the record arrests mark a dereliction of duty — two themes that came up during Wednesday’s hearing and have been cited as reason to impeach the DHS secretary. The House Judiciary Committee would have jurisdiction over an impeachment resolution.
The tone of the hearing didn’t sit well with New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the committee’s top Democrat, who lambasted Republicans for their approach.
“I wish this hearing was starting off on a different note. This hearing is more of the same, haphazard chaotic style we have come to expect of this new Republican majority,” Nadler said in his opening remarks. “The first hearing will showcase the racist tendencies of the extreme MAGA Republican wing of the party,” he added.
Over the course of the hearing, Democrats seized on disagreements over border policy within the GOP conference. Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, of Georgia, called it “nothing more than a distraction.”
The committee described Wednesday’s hearing — the first in a series — as an examination of “border security, national security, and how fentanyl has impacted American lives,” but it also served as a platform for GOP lawmakers to air their grievances over the administration’s immigration policies.
Brandon Dunn, co-founder of Forever 15 Project, which seeks to raise awareness on fentanyl, Sheriff Mark Dannels of Cochise County, Arizona, and El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego testified before the panel.
The House Judiciary Committee is one of many committees that will be holding hearings over the situation at the US-Mexico border. The House Oversight Committee also intends to hold a hearing on the issue and has already engaged in a back and forth with the department over its witnesses.
House Oversight Chairman James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, accused DHS of “refusing to permit” four chief patrol agents to testify at an upcoming Oversight hearing that Comer invited them to the week of February 6.
DHS, however, offered US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who oversees the four agents Comer requested, to testify before the House Oversight Committee and said it would make sector chiefs available for a member-level briefing, according to a letter from DHS to Comer obtained by CNN, citing its own assessment of who was appropriate to testify.
Biden admin grapples with unprecedented mass movement in hemisphere
The Biden administration faces unprecedented movement across the Western hemisphere that has contributed to a surge of migrants at the border, including more people from different countries, such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The US is largely barred from deporting migrants to Cuba and Venezuela, presenting a unique set of challenges for DHS.
In early January, the Biden administration expanded a humanitarian parole program to include Haitians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Cubans to provide a legal pathway for them to enter the US instead of crossing the border. The administration also made those nationalities eligible for Title 42, meaning they can now be turned away by authorities if they don’t apply for the program.
Since then, there has been a significant decline in migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela crossing the US-Mexico border unlawfully, according to the Department of Homeland Security, which attributed the drop to new border measures.
Encounters with migrants from those four nationalities declined 97% in January compared to December, officials previously told reporters, citing preliminary numbers. Border numbers often fluctuate depending on circumstances in the Western hemisphere, so it’s unclear how long the trend will hold.
Already, though, Republican-led states have sued the administration over the program. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with 19 other states, argued in a lawsuit that the administration didn’t go through the notice and comment rulemaking process before instituting the rule. As a result, the states are asking the court to block the program.
Administration officials immediately pushed back.
“It is incomprehensible that some states who stand to benefit from these highly effective enforcement measures are seeking to block them and cause more irregular migration at our southern border,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
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