Republican US House panel advances impeachment charges against border chief

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By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives panel early on Wednesday advanced impeachment charges against Democratic President Joe Biden's top border official, a near-unprecedented move that comes as political tensions around immigration ramp up.

The House Homeland Security Committee approved two articles of impeachment targeting Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas following a lengthy hearing where lawmakers split sharply along partisan lines. The charges allege Mayorkas intentionally encouraged illegal immigration with lax policies and violated public trust by making false statements to Congress.

Democrats have dismissed the impeachment effort as a political ploy and constitutional experts have said the policy criticisms outlined by Republicans do not meet impeachment's high standard of misconduct. The only Cabinet member ever to be impeached by the House was former President Ulysses S. Grant's secretary of war, William Belknap, in 1876 following allegations of corruption. He was acquitted by the Senate.

The timing of a possible impeachment vote on the House floor remains unclear but the earliest would be next week, a source close to the proceedings told reporters. If impeached by the House, Mayorkas likely would be acquitted in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority.

Border security is a core issue for Republican voters concerned about a record number of migrants illegally crossing the border since Biden took office in 2021 and the party has made it a focus in the runup to the Nov. 5 elections that will decide control of the White House and Congress.

Republicans fault Biden for rolling back restrictive policies of Republican former President Donald Trump, the leading candidate for his party's nomination to challenge Biden.

"He has willfully and systematically refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress and breached the trust of Congress and the American people," Representative Mark Green, the committee chairman, said at the hearing. "The results have been catastrophic and have endangered the lives and livelihoods of all Americans."

Mayorkas - a former federal prosecutor - defended his immigration enforcement record and commitment to government service on Tuesday in a letter to Green.

"I assure you that your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me from the law enforcement and broader public service mission to which I have devoted most of my career and to which I remain devoted," Mayorkas wrote.

Mayorkas earlier this month offered to appear before the committee in his own defense but Republicans proceeded to debate the impeachment charges without his testimony.

The House is also holding an impeachment inquiry into Biden himself, a move some Republican hardliners called for shortly after his 2020 election. Trump was impeached twice during his four years in office, though each time Senate Republicans provided enough votes to acquit him.

The Biden administration says it aims to create a more orderly and humane immigration system, but the president has increasingly toughened his rhetoric. On Friday, he embraced a yet-unreleased Senate border deal that would create a sweeping authority to expel migrants back to Mexico and said he would "shut down the border" if the bill passed.

Trump has been pushing against that proposal, saying he does not want to make a deal with Democrats in an election year.

House Republicans say impeachment is necessary since Mayorkas has refused to detain migrants caught at the border and allowed too many foreigners to enter legally through emergency "parole" programs.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)