Mayorkas is driven by his own understanding of the immigrant experience. Many in GOP want him gone

To his supporters, Alejandro Mayorkas is a thoughtful, driven secretary who brings a prosecutor’s tenacity and his personal understanding of the immigrant experience in America to running his sprawling agency. To his detractors, he personifies everything that has gone wrong at the U.S.-Mexico border and is responsible for allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants into the United States illegally in a burgeoning crisis.

Mayorkas, often referred to as Ali, is the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security, one of the government’s biggest agencies with 260,000 employees. And if House Republicans get their way, he’ll also be the first Cabinet member impeached in nearly 150 years.

The agency was forged in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to bring together 22 various agencies and departments. Tom Warrick, a former top counterterrorism official at the agency who is now at the Atlantic Council, says it’s the second-toughest job in Washington.

“Only the president’s is tougher. The secretary of DHS has to oversee the most diverse mission portfolio in the federal government. And almost all of it is a high-wire act where failure would have enormous consequences,” Warrick said.

In just a few examples of the agency’s diverse responsibilities, over the past year Homeland Security worked with historically Black colleges and universities to respond to bomb threats, set up an AI-task force to figure out how best to use the nascent technology and protected President Joe Biden on his trip to Ukraine.

But it is the department’s role in immigration that has made Mayorkas a target of impeachment. The House could vote on impeachment as soon as this coming week, although it’s unclear whether Republicans have enough support within their slim majority to push it through.

When Biden chose Mayorkas to head the department, the nominee was seen by many as someone who would bring a more humane hand to immigration following the administration of Republican President Donald Trump, whose policies to stem the flow of migrants fueled outrage.

He was first sworn into government service in 1989 as a prosecutor in California.

“I am deeply devoted to the reasons why I entered public service many, many years ago .. .unwaveringly so,” he said during a recent interview with The Associated Press.

His family left Cuba in 1960 when he was a baby and eventually settled in Los Angeles. His mother had fled the Holocaust before arriving in Cuba. When Mayorkas was a child, his mother didn’t want him going to sleepovers or away to camp after she had lost so many family members to the Holocaust, the secretary has said.

“This country meant a lot to my parents and to what they could provide to my sister and me,” he said. “I also understand the fragility of life, what it means to be displaced.”

Supporters say he is driven by commitment to public service and that impeachment is completely at odds with what they know of the law-and-order-minded former prosecutor.

Cecilia Munoz, who worked closely with Mayorkas during the Obama administration, praised his tenure as head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, where she says he put in place a program giving protection from deportation to migrants brought to the border as children in “light speed.” She also noted his efforts to get Haitian children, orphaned by the 2010 earthquake, into the U.S. to people who wanted to adopt them.

“For him, the most meaningful thing you can do in government is stick with the thorny problem so that a kid can … find his family,” she said.

Since joining Biden’s Cabinet, Mayorkas has been subject to often hostile rhetoric over the administration’s handling of the border and immigration.

Republicans argue that he has been the architect of an immigration system that they say has no consequences for migrants who come to the U.S. illegally and that serves as a major factor in pulling them to America. GOP lawmakers say the campaign language that Biden used to hammer Trump’s policies sent a message to would-be migrants that U.S. borders were now open, and they say the Democratic administration either got rid of policies that were working under Trump to curb migration or put in place new ones that are failing.

Republicans particularly criticize Mayorkas for what they say is a failure to detain migrants and for his use of humanitarian parole to admit hundreds of thousands of people into the country who otherwise could not get a visa.

“He’s intentionally just bringing the people in and releasing them into the country,” said GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that voted along party lines Wednesday in favor of impeaching Mayorkas. “The mass migration wave that’s occurred is because there’s no consequences to crossing the border now.”

Only once in American history has a Cabinet secretary been impeached: William Belknap, war secretary in the administration of President Ulysses Grant, in 1876 over kickbacks in government contracts.

Targeting an official for impeachment over a policy dispute — in Mayorkas’ case, over the Republicans’ claim that he is not upholding immigration laws — is unprecedented.

Brandon Judd is the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents agents and endorsed Trump for president. Judd argues that when Mayorkas says things such as Homeland Security is putting migrants into deportation proceedings, it leads people to believe the government is moving faster and being tougher than Judd says it is.

Judd said agents complain to him that they are not able to do the job they signed up for because they constantly are being pulled off to process migrants. “You don’t feel good in the job that you’re doing as a Border Patrol agent right now,” he said.

Mayorkas says he does not take the criticism personally and says the allegations driving impeachment are “baseless.”

He is adamant that the impeachment process is not distracting him from his work and is prepared to defend himself in the Democratic-controlled Senate if there is a trial.

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