Mayorkas defiant as lawmakers erupt in first meeting since impeachment

Impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faced an infuriated panel of House lawmakers on Capitol Hill, during which Republicans led a charge against the Biden administration Cabinet official for failing to deport more than a million illegal immigrants who have been ordered to leave.

A defiant Mayorkas fielded fiery remarks before the House Appropriations Committee at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning, his first public meeting with lawmakers since the House impeached him on two articles on Feb. 13. Mayorkas’s future hangs in the balance as the House waits to deliver the articles to the Senate after it was delayed on Tuesday.

Led by Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Joyce (R-OH), Republicans pelted Mayorkas for budget shortfalls in the department’s fiscal 2025 request. GOP lawmakers specifically questioned why the Department of Homeland Security had not removed from the United States approximately 1.3 million illegal immigrants who had been ordered removed from within the country by federal immigration judges but had not been deported.

“This request is not serious if the goal is to actually fix the problem and secure our border. Does the request ask for enough resources to remove more than 1.3 million aliens on the nondetained docket whose cases have already been adjudicated and no longer have a legal basis to remain in this country?” Joyce asked.

“Does it ask for an appropriate level of detention beds to detain aliens who pose a national security or public safety risk,” Joyce continued. “No, this administration instead asks for 7,500 less beds than the Congress just funded in FY 2024 budget.”

Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) speaks during a hearing of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Mayorkas said the DHS had “removed or returned” more than 630,000 people over the past 11 months — more than any full year over the past decade.

Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL) accused Mayorkas of conflating interior deportations with removals or returns of illegal immigrants at the border, adding they were not the same and that the DHS was attempting to look like it was removing immigrants in the country when the 630,000 figure was only accountable for people turned away at the southern border.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations on Capitol Hill on April 10, 2024. (Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner)

“You said 630,000 had been returned. That is not accurate. The actual ICE deportations is 142,580. All those other people that you’re talking about were rejected at the border. These are not ICE deportations, and you conflate those two numbers, and it’s aggravating to me that you do that,” Rutherford said.

“Mr. Secretary, why haven’t you removed those 1.2 million if … they’ve exhausted their due process, been told they have to get out,” Rutherford said. “They’ve got to leave this country, and you let them stay.”

Republicans’ questions followed up on a promise that Mayorkas made in April 2023, ahead of the end of a pandemic-era immigration protocol. Mayorkas said immigrants who crossed the border illegally and were released into the U.S. would be deported if a federal judge decided they did not meet the persecution threshold for asylum.

“They will have an opportunity to seek protection or other relief from removal. If they receive a final order of removal, we will enforce the law, and they will be removed,” Mayorkas said during a press conference last year.

Joyce and others pounded Mayorkas for not following through on his vow and federal law to remove people who had no legal right to remain in the country.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), the ranking member, asked Mayorkas why he had not used the process of expedited removal to quickly deport illegal immigrants ordered deported. Expedited removal is a process federal law enforcement at the border regularly uses to return illegal immigrants swiftly after they are arrested at the border.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) speaks during a hearing of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Mayorkas explained that immigrants in the U.S. cannot be expeditiously removed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless they are already in detention. The up to 1.3 million ordered deported remain out of custody.

“One major provision of the Senate bipartisan legislation that would have been so incredibly impactful was to allow us to apply expedited removal proceedings — a much more accelerated removal process to individuals outside of immigration detention,” Mayorkas said. “Right now, for single adults, we are restricted to apply an expedited removal to those in detention. That bipartisan legislation would have provided us with extraordinary enforcement tools.”

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Lawmakers pushed Mayorkas to make more ICE detention beds available to detain illegal immigrants, though that approach is one the Biden administration has publicly said it does not prefer to take.

At present, ICE has enough detention beds nationwide to detain 41,500 people.

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