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“Dead-End Strategy”: GOP Impeaches Mayorkas as Democrats Push Hard-Line Border & Immigration Policy

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For the first time ever, the House has voted to impeach a Cabinet member. After failing on its first try last week, the Republican-led House voted Tuesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border. This comes as Congress continues to debate packaging hard-line immigration measures with foreign military aid. “The sad reality is that the politics of immigration policy have really taken over in Congress,” says law professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, who discusses the Democrats’ “dead-end strategy” of trying to “out-tough the Republican Party when it comes to immigration policy.” He also discusses his new book, Welcome the Wretched: In Defense of the “Criminal Alien”, which makes the case for not deporting undocumented immigrants even if they commit a crime. “I want immigration law to reflect the reality of the humans that it is supposed to serve.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For the first time ever, the House has voted to impeach a Cabinet member. After failing on its first try last week, the Republican-led House voted Tuesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

SPEAKER MIKE JOHNSON: On this vote, the yeas are 214, and the nays are 213. The resolution is adopted.

AMY GOODMAN: The House approved two articles of impeachment, accusing Mayorkas of not enforcing U.S. immigration laws and making false statements to Congress.

House Republicans have spent months investigating the secretary’s actions, as they gear up to make immigration a key election issue. They had to push the vote to take place Tuesday because they just won by a one-vote margin and a new Democratic member of Congress could have been sworn in today. Former New York Democratic Congressmember Tom Suozzi won a special election Tuesday to fill the open seat left by disgraced Republican Congressmember George Santos.

In a statement, President Biden called Tuesday’s impeachment vote by House Republicans a, quote, “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that … targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games,” unquote.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a $95 billion military funding package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan Tuesday that stripped out a border deal that had been blasted by Trump, even though it was a Republican proposal and would have further militarized the border and ramped up immigration enforcement.

For more, we go to New Mexico, where we’re joined by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor and the Gregory Williams chair in civil rights and civil liberties at Ohio State University. He’s the author of the new book, Welcome the Wretched. His recent op-ed for The New York Times is headlined “This Immigration Bill Was Never Going to Fix the Border.” He’s joining us from Albuquerque.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor. Thank you so much for being with us. So, you have the House voting for the first time ever to impeach the homeland security secretary, the first time impeaching a Cabinet member, and this was over Biden’s immigration policy. And at the same time, you have the Republicans rejecting their own proposed border policy that further militarized the border, because President Trump didn’t like it. If you can talk about the significance of what’s taking place right now, where the Democrats and Republicans stand on the border, and what needs to be done?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: It’s a pleasure to be here with you, Amy and Juan.

Look, I wake up most mornings, and I spend a good chunk of my day criticizing the Department of Homeland Security that Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas oversees, but the sad reality is that the politics of immigration policy have really taken over in Congress. There’s nothing that Secretary Mayorkas is doing that is so out of line with what other top immigration officials have done, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, to merit the impeachment vote that we saw yesterday. The reality is that the two parties in Congress are trying to out-tough one another in an endless repetition of policies that we’ve seen in the past.

The immigration bill that was unveiled in the Senate just recently would have devoted more money to hiring more Border Patrol agents, more money to paying for more immigration detention beds across the network that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency operates, and more money for advanced surveillance technologies. All the while, the political bargaining chip was asylum, closing off access to the United States for people who are literally fleeing for their lives and hoping that in the United States they might find safe harbor.

So, we’ve seen versions of this debate in the past, and the reality is that we have never been able to police our way out of people wanting to come to the United States. And had this bill gotten some traction in either the Senate or the House and ended up on President Biden’s desk, he seems pretty clear he would have signed it. But my expectation is that we would have been in much the same situation just a few years down the road.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, César, what about some of the Republican arguments on this? One, that the president was — they were very concerned about his — they claim he was abusing his parole authority and paroling large numbers of people unnecessarily into the United States. Also, this whole issue of the proposed bill about closing the border if it goes over — if the entries between ports of entry go above 4,000 per day on average? What would closing the border mean? Are they talking about closing the border to just people coming over, or also to all of the traffic, the commercial traffic, that crosses that border every single day?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: The parole authority that Republicans in the House really rallied around as one of the reasons why they moved forward with this impeachment vote against Secretary Mayorkas is truly an astonishing reflection of a lack of historical understanding. Parole has been part of federal immigration law since the middle of the 20th century. It was first used on a large scale while Dwight Eisenhower was sitting in the Oval Office in the middle — in the 1950s. It’s been used by presidential administrations ever since then. And if they don’t like the way that the Biden administration is using it now, fine. But it is a law that was enacted by Congress, and Congress can change that law if they so choose. But to claim that Secretary Mayorkas is overseeing a department that is violating or subverting immigration law by exercising a legal authority that is embedded in existing immigration law is truly saddening.

But when it comes to President Biden’s declaration that had he already received the power that this bill would give him and other presidents, he would have closed down the border, that’s also a truly astonishing statement to make by any president, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat, because, of course, those of us who have lived and those of us who have spent time in border communities understand that the border is far more than just the site of chaos and crisis that we would imagine if all we do is listen to members of Congress or members of the White House team talk about the border. It’s also families that straddle communities across both sides of the border. It’s economic relationships. It’s cultural ties that extend for generations. And to promise to shut down the border really doesn’t give much weight to all of the meaning that goes to those people who make their lives and hope for their futures in these communities, whether we’re talking about San Diego on the western tip or Brownsville on the eastern tip.

The power that this bill would have given would basically have targeted asylum seekers specifically. It would have exempted U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, folks with green cards. But it would have shut off access to people reaching the United States specifically to request asylum — that is, to request legal safe harbor — despite the fact that there’s a federal law on the books since 1980 that says anyone who’s in the United States and is physically present and is afraid for their lives can request asylum. This bill would have empowered the presidential — the Department of Homeland Security to really just turn them around. That’s exactly what we saw under President Trump during his use of the Title 42 policy, and the Biden administration seems quite willing to return to that Trump era.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I also wanted to ask you: To what degree is all of this border chaos narrative affecting not just average white Americans, but also within the Black and Latino communities, as more and more migrants are being sent to the northern cities? There seems to be increasing tension, for instance, between Mexican and Central Americans, many of whom are undocumented but have been in this country for decades and are now seeing all of this attention focused on the latest migrants. What’s your assessment of the potential for divisions even within the Latino community, as well as other communities of color, as the failure of the federal government to deal with the current migrant surge accelerates?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the first first Latino to head the Department of Homeland Security is also the first sitting Cabinet secretary in the history of the United States to be impeached.

But on top of that, we’re seeing that communities of color are really being vilified in this notion that these masses of people, who are doing exactly what people have done for generations — that is, reached the United States, hopeful that in this land of opportunity they might begin a new life, that in this country they might reach the economic prosperity that is unavailable to them in the places that they are fleeing, and that in this land, in this country, they might provide their children with a secure and safe future that they cannot do in the homes that they are leaving behind. And in that sense, the folks who we’re seeing coming to the United States these days, from South America, from Central America, from various countries across Africa and the Caribbean, are in no meaningful way different from the folks who came a century ago or more.

And yet we’re seeing, in places like Denver and other cities, that Democratic-led mayoral city governments are asking for their staff to cut essential services that are heavily used by communities of color that reside in those places. In Denver, for example, the mayor has announced that the local youth recreation centers will be cutting back their hours as a way of paying for support that the city is giving to migrants. Meanwhile, they’re not taking advantage of the fact that there may be some other options available to them to support migrants without having to make those difficult trade-offs that essentially pit one community against another.

AMY GOODMAN: The Republican-led House had to vote yesterday, on Tuesday, on impeaching Mayorkas because they won by just one vote, 214 to 213, and a new Democratic member of Congress would have been sworn in today, and that would have meant that they wouldn’t win. They had already failed in the vote last week. The former New York Democratic Congressmember Tom Suozzi won that special election Tuesday to fill the open seat left by disgraced Republican Congressmember George Santos. Suozzi won nearly 54% of the vote, defeating Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, who was born in Ethiopia, served in the Israeli military, moved to Long Island. Suozzi’s victory leaves the Republican Party with a narrow edge over Democrats in the House. Many of the TV commercials that Pilip and Suozzi ran during the campaign focused on immigration. This is a Long Island-Queens race. This is one of the winner Tom Suozzi’s ads.

TOM SUOZZI: The southern border is 2,000 miles away, but the migrant crisis has landed right in our own backyard. I’ll work across the aisle to do what our leaders haven’t: secure our border, close the routes used for legal immigration, but open paths to citizenship for those willing to follow the rules and pay a fee to help finance it all. In the past, I’ve worked with the Republican Peter King on a compromise solution to the migrant problem. I’ll work with anyone to get it done.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Tom Suozzi. César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, if you can tell us more about — I mean, he really ran on immigration. It was the number one issue, that and abortion, of this largely Long Island district. Can you talk about the fact that the Democrats adopted the Republican stance on militarization, and yet it was the Republicans that rejected it, and what this bodes for what’s happening next?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: The idea that Democrats can out-tough the Republican Party when it comes to immigration policy is a dead-end strategy. The politicians like to imagine that we can police our way out of immigration policy problems, but they’re imagining a fantasy world that has never existed and does not exist right now. If the solution to regulating migration were to be bought by more Border Patrol agents, by more ICE prison beds, by more advanced technologies that are being deployed at communities that cross the border on a regular basis, then we would have bought that solution a long time ago.

But the reality is that so long as people have a desire to get to the United States, so long as people have family and friends who are already in the United States, and so long as people are able to begin those lives that they dream of in the United States by getting to work soon after arriving — which we all know is exactly what happens in cities and towns, large and small, across this country, whether those migrants have the federal government’s permission to work or not — then people are going to be coming.

And if what elected officials want is to find out who’s coming to the United States, is to ensure that there is an orderly migration process, then they need to open up the lawful pathways into the United States. And the bill that was introduced in Congress did begin — would have begun to move in that direction, not nearly enough, and those positive attributes were really overshadowed by some of the policing-focused approaches and also the clampdown on asylum. And what happens is, if we simply reinforce the border by building Trump-style walls or deploying more law enforcement agents, then all we’re doing is turning the migration process into something that is more expensive and more dangerous. And the result is we then push people further into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and also make it more likely that they will die in the process of getting to the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: César, I wanted to ask you — I think it was last year, Mexico passed China to become the largest trading partner of the United States. It is the number one country for imports and exports of goods to the United States. How do you reconcile the fact that people, leaders in this country have no problem with increasing goods crossing the border — in fact, no one complains about all the goods that are crossing the border between Mexico and the United States — but want to erect, as you say, barriers and restrictions on the flow of people back and forth across that same border?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: Well, the United States is a vital trade partner of Mexico, and vice versa. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is the fact that we’re perfectly happy to see a free exchange of goods and products, but not so happy to see an exchange of people. But the reality is that the people are going to be crossing the border anyway. The people are crossing the border. People come into the United States. Sometimes they have the government’s permission to come here, and then they stay after the fact. That’s true of Canadians. That’s true of Western Europeans. That’s true of Mexicans. That’s not a result of citizenship. That’s just a result of the fact that life happens and priorities shift over time.

And so, if what we truly want is to encourage the cross-border ties, then we need to stop using the border as a political baseball bat to beat political opponents with. You know, we’ve seen the Biden administration shut down ports of entry for a few days at a time. We’ve seen the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, demand inspection of 100% of the cargo, commercial cargo-carrying vehicles crossing at certain ports of entry, as a way of making a point about border security. And all of these have an enormous impact not simply on the people, but also on the economic relationship between the United States and Mexico.

And it’s in the interest of the United States to have a strong Mexican economy, just like it’s in the interest of Mexican citizens to have a strong U.S. economy. We are not living in vacuums. We will never live in vacuums. We cannot seal ourselves off from any part of the world, and certainly not from our neighbors, from places that many of us have strong ties to, many of us have family, and, in fact, many of us have lived there. You mentioned my latest book, Welcome the Wretched. I wrote most of that book while sitting in my apartment in Mexico City. So, this is not a faraway land that’s unfamiliar to many of us. For many of us, when we think of migration from Latin America, we think of our family. We think of our friends. We think of our neighbors and the people who are closest to us and most meaningful to us.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a professor of law. And I want to talk about your book in the context of — well, this border deal included something like $7 billion for ICE, to increase deportation and detention of immigrants. Talk about your book, Welcome the Wretched: In Defense of the “Criminal Alien”, in which you make the case against the criminalization of immigrants and also argue immigrants should not be deported if they’re charged or convicted of a crime. Talk about what you mean and what you’re advocating for.

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: The United States is nothing if not a country that has been built by wholly ordinary people, people who have risen to their finest moments when the time called for it, but people whose lives are also peppered by their worst moments — that is, failures; that is, moments in which we engage in regrettable conduct and reprehensible conduct. And that has nothing to do with their citizenship and everything to do with their humanity. And that is true of migrants who are coming today, and that was true of migrants who have come — who came in generations past. The reality is that most of us spend most of our days trying to be the best versions of ourselves, and the reality is that all of us fail to be those best versions of ourselves at one moment or another.

And so, I want immigration law to reflect the reality of the humans that it is supposed to serve. And those humans are people who will, on most occasions, try to do right by their families and their friends and their neighbors, but sometimes they will inevitably fail. And I want this to be a country that accepts people for being exactly the fallible, imperfect humans that those of us who happen to have been born into our U.S. citizenship are, and that quite often we celebrate, whether that’s in popular culture or whether we’re talking about elected officials who are facing dozens of indictments at a given time for anything from insurrection against the country to sexual violence against women.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, clearly, this is a major issue that will continue throughout this election year and beyond, and we’ll continue to cover it. César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, we want to thank you so much for being with us, law professor at Ohio State University, author of the new book, Welcome the Wretched: In Defense of the “Criminal Alien”. We’ll also link to your op-ed in The New York Times headlined “This Immigration Bill Was Never Going to Fix the Border.”

Coming up, what’s the State Department doing about the killing, the arrests and the attacks on Palestinian Americans both in the Occupied Territories and here at home? Stay with us.

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