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Sen. Cornyn warns dismissing effort to impeach DHS secretary would be 'unprecedented'

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks to reporters as he walks to the Senate chamber at the Capitol Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.
Jose Luis Magana
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks to reporters as he walks to the Senate chamber at the Capitol Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn this week warned that dismissing articles of impeachment against embattled Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas would be an unmatched undertaking that violates the Constitution.

Mayorkas, who has been at the helm of the department since President Biden took office, was impeached in February by the U.S. House for "willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law" on border policy and "breach of public trust." The 214-213 vote marked the first time a cabinet member was impeached since the 1870s.

Cornyn said in a floor speech Monday that a move to table the articles of impeachment by U.S. Senate Democrats would “be a dangerous precedent to set.”

“This would be the first time in our nation's history that the Senate failed to do its duty to consider evidence, hear witnesses, and allow Senators to vote guilty or not guilty,” he said.

Democrats have balked at the effort to oust Mayorkas, saying in February that there isn’t evidence to suggest he has broken any laws, NPR reported.

“This farce of an impeachment is a distraction from other vital national security priorities and the work Congress should be doing to actually fix our broken immigration laws,” states a memo the DHS issued in February. It adds that under the Biden administration, more undocumented immigrants have been removed or returned in three years that in the four years under former President Trump.

Axios reported Tuesday that Senate Democrats would try to dismiss the charges once they are received in the upper chamber from the U.S. House, which was scheduled to happen on Wednesday. But Tuesday afternoon Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana said the articles would be delivered next week, NBC reported. The move would allow more time for Republicans to debate the issue.

“To ensure the Senate has adequate time to perform its constitutional duty, the House will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate next week," Taylor Haulsee, a spokesman for Johnson, said in a statement to NBC.

Cornyn said that Mayorkas wasn’t impeached because he was incompetent or “unpopular” but instead because of his refusal to enforce immigration laws and detain most migrants who cross the border without authorization.

“He’s defied the law and the will of Congress by ignoring detention mandates,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn singled out the agency’s use of immigration parole that has led more than 1.6 million migrants to receive the benefit, which Cornyn said is supposed to be used only on a case-by-case basis. According to the American Immigration Council, “the burden of proof is placed on the applicant to establish that parole should be authorized.”

America’s Voice, a national immigrant rights organization, called the impeachment effort a “sham” that’s fueled division on border and immigration issues.

“The right-wing impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas was pre-baked from the start and has always been about political attacks instead of public policy, the constitution, or the goal of an orderly border,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, the executive director.Yet despite the sham nature of the impeachment and the likelihood it will soon fizzle and fail in the Senate, the right-wing push has helped mainstream dangerous conspiracies and lies that have been tied to real acts of violence and continue to stoke dangers and divides today.”

Immigration is one of the top concerns for voters as the presidential election rematch between Trump and Biden approaches in November. Results from a Gallup poll released in February showed the issue topped the government as the most pressing problem for the country, coming in at 29% and 20%, respectively.

In Texas, 59% of voters approve policies that make it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the U.S., according to the results of a poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin released in February. The figure includes 71% of Republican voters and 48% of Democratic voters.

Immigration continues to pit Texas Republicans against the Biden administration over how to secure the border. Gov. Greg Abbott continues to tout Operation Lone Star, a controversial state-led effort that has deployed billions of dollars in resources and thousands of Texas National Guard and state police to the state’s border with Mexico.

The Texas Legislature also passed Senate Bill 4 last year, which allows local police to arrest a person suspected of being in the country illegally and have a local judge order the person to return to Mexico. The law is currently on hold as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals weighs its legality.

Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom