Alejandro Mayorkas impeachment a blow to Biden that thrusts immigration to the fore

Nearly 80 per cent of Americans say government is doing a 'very bad' or 'somewhat bad' job of dealing with migrants on the southern border

A record number of migrants – the majority of them fleeing poverty, violence and political persecution in Central and South America – have been arriving at the border with Mexico. Bloomberg
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The impeachment of President Joe Biden's top border official by the House of Representatives on Tuesday dealt Democrats a significant blow and cemented immigration as a defining issue in the coming US presidential election.

By a narrow one-vote majority, the Republican-controlled House approved two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, accusing him of failing to enforce US immigration laws and making false statements to Congress.

The charges will now go to the Senate for trial, but the Democratic-controlled chamber is unlikely to vote in favour of removing Mr Mayorkas from office.

Still, the development marked only the second time in US history that the House has voted to impeach a member of the President's cabinet.

It also signified that Mr Biden's handling of the border will be a hot-button election topic – an issue US voters rank second in importance after the economy.

Nearly 80 per cent of Americans said the government is doing a “very bad” or “somewhat bad” job of dealing with the numbers of migrants seeking to enter the US through its southern border, according to a Pew Research Centre poll released on Wednesday.

The numbers come as a record number of migrants – the majority of them fleeing poverty, violence and political persecution in Central and South America – have been arriving at the border with Mexico.

Since Mr Biden took office in 2021, 2.4 million migrants have entered the country. The majority are subject to removal proceedings in immigration court, but are eligible to apply for asylum.

Republican leaders blame Mr Biden's policies for the numbers of migrants arriving.

“It is Ash Wednesday and also Valentine's Day, but the American people are not feeling very loved right now,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Wednesday.

“Talk about the American people not being listened to – they're crying out to the Biden administration to secure the border. This is not a Republican issue. It's an issue for every single person, and everybody knows it.”

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The development comes after the US Senate passed a $95 billion aid package that contains funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Mr Johnson has rejected the package for failing to address immigration along the southern border.

“We believe that what occurred last night is baseless, it's shameful,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of the impeachment.

“It's unfortunate that House Republicans prioritise politics instead of actually getting that [supplemental deal] done.”

Former president Donald Trump made reducing immigration to the US a major focus of his campaign and his time in office.

He pushed for the construction of a border wall with Mexico and put in a place a policy that separated migrant children from their parents. He also made it impossible for most migrants to seek asylum at the border while forcing many others to wait in Mexico while their claims were being processed.

During his administration, immigration along the border fell, though much of it, observers say, was due to global pandemic-era restrictions on travel.

Mr Trump, the current Republican front-runner, is likely to face Mr Biden again in November, and restricting immigration is once again a major message of his campaign.

Desperate asylum seekers cross river between US and Mexico amid migrant surge

Desperate asylum seekers cross river between US and Mexico amid migrant surge

He has vowed to deport millions of people if he is re-elected.

Republican Representative Steve Scalise, who missed a vote last week to impeach Mr Mayorkas while he received treatment for cancer, returned on Tuesday night and cast the deciding vote.

“We are going to fight to secure the border,” Mr Scalise said.

“We're going to take this seriously as we have for months and months and continue to focus on those needs of the American people, even if this President and his administration refuses to.”

In an effort to fend off Republican criticisms, the Biden administration temporarily expanded the use of Trump-era expulsions at the border.

Those policies have angered progressives in his own Democratic Party who say he has not lived up to his promises of embracing diversity and overturning the anti-immigration stance of his predecessor.

Mr Biden paired the stricter border rules with several new humanitarian parole programmes that has enabled citizens from countries from Central and South America to apply for entry while outside the US. It also introduced a system whereby migrants could book appointments through a mobile phone app.

Progressives have largely welcomed those programmes, while Mr Biden's Republican rivals have said that they have encouraged more migrants to come.

Ellie Sennett contributed to this report from Washington

Updated: February 15, 2024, 6:17 AM