GOP set to deliver a grilling to Mayorkas on border
House Republicans are set to grill Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week when he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time on Thursday.
The hearing takes place amid a firestorm over the Biden administration’s decision to lift a pandemic measure that blocked asylum-seekers from entering the country, and Republicans have made it clear they intend to make immigration and border security pillars of their midterm campaign.
On Thursday, they hope to get Mayorkas to personally address the thorny immigration issues fueling their midterm campaign messaging.
A 60-page confidential guidance memo from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), ranking member on the committee, that was leaked to The New York Times suggests that Republicans plan to accuse Mayorkas of encouraging illegal immigration with “far-left policies.”
Some of the points in the memo echo those regularly made by former President Trump, linking migrants to sex offenses and warning that they could be criminals by pointing to arrests at the border and of those brought to the U.S. from Afghanistan.
The hearing comes as the Biden administration faces bipartisan pushback on its plan to lift the pandemic-era Title 42 border policy that allowed border agents to turn away migrants without allowing them to seek asylum, an issue that Republicans have been hammering hard.
Title 42 protocol is set to be lifted at the end of May, which the Department of Homeland Security predicts could overwhelm its system with up to 18,000 migrant encounters per day at the southern border, up from an average of around 7,100 per day in March. That has prompted several Democratic lawmakers, including vulnerable Sens. Maggie Hassan (N.H.) and Mark Kelly (Ariz.), to warn against ending the policy prematurely.
Also fueling Republican anger at Mayorkas is Customs and Border Protection revealing that since Biden took office, 42 migrants who tried to enter the U.S. illegally were on the terror watch list. That information, accounting for arrests nationwide and not just on the southern border, was provided to lawmakers after an August inquiry led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and reported by Fox News.
Mayorkas is one of the most-criticized members of Biden’s Cabinet. Thirty House Republicans have signed on to a resolution to impeach Mayorkas, arguing that he “subverted the will of Congress and the core tenants of the Constitution.”
“Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden bear the responsibility of the worst border security crisis in American history,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee who led the resolution to impeach Mayorkas, said in a statement. “Secretary Mayorkas must answer tough questions from the Committee without evasion, dissembling, or gaslighting.”
“We have potential terrorists crossing our borders. Our southern border wall remains unconstructed. Programs like ‘Remain in Mexico’ are not being fully utilized,” Biggs continued. “Illegal aliens are simply being processed and released into the interior of the country as fast as possible. Once in the country, Mayorkas has instructed immigration authorities to not remove the vast majority of people unlawfully here. He is attempting to abolish ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] from the inside and is ignoring countless laws.”
Mayorkas has frustrated Republicans in previous congressional hearings by saying that he could not provide figures and statistics about migrant apprehensions, detentions and dispersions, since he did not have the data in front of him. This time, the GOP is trying out a new tactic to prevent that.
Jordan sent a letter to Mayorkas last week laying out questions that Republicans want him to answer about what Jordan called “a humanitarian and security crisis along our southwest border” caused by “President Biden’s far-left immigration policies.”
“Accordingly, to ensure that your appearance generates a fruitful discussion, we ask that you come prepared to address in detail the Biden Administration’s immigration policies and programs,” Jordan said in the letter, asking Mayorkas to come prepared with statistics revolving around Customs and Border Protection migrant encounters on the border and enforcement of immigration policies within the country.
A tweet from the Judiciary Committee GOP alongside Jordan’s letter said that Mayorkas likes to “dodge answers to tough questions” and that because of the letter, he will have “no excuses” to not provide answers.
Mayorkas faced criticism when he told Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in a September hearing that he could not give a “ballpark” figure on how many apprehended migrants were being held. While the moment fueled GOP arguments that Mayorkas had a poor understanding of the border situation, hearing details straight from the top Biden official in charge of the border could provide better fodder for Republican messaging.
Jordan’s tactic may work, according to Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services.
“I think it’s a good idea to lay out what you want and what specific questions were addressed,” said Troy, who has argued that congressional hearings have declined in quality and influence in part because of partisanship. “It’s much better than playing hide the ball or trying to surprise him with questions. I think you’ll get more substantive answers if you go and tell them the questions you want to ask.”
Recent lawmaker visits to the border over the House’s two-week Easter recess may also inform GOP questions to Mayorkas.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, including Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Cliff Bentz (Ore.), Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Scott Fitzgerald (Wis.), visited the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego on Thursday. The trip included a briefing on asylum-seekers from Ukraine arriving at the southern border.
According to the House Judiciary GOP, when Bentz asked during a briefing with the Border Patrol if help has arrived for them, the response was: “We haven’t seen that yet.”
This story was updated at 10:23 a.m.
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