House Republicans are moving closer to impeaching Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over record migrant numbers at the US-Mexico border.
In an impeachment hearing on Wednesday they focused on how states have been affected by his department’s actions.
Impeaching a cabinet official is rare, but the border could become a key issue in the 2024 presidential election.
A growing number of Americans consider the situation at the border a crisis.
In December, a record number of migrants were processed at the southern border and for all of 2023 almost 2.5 million people were apprehended there.
The Republican-dominated House Committee on Homeland Security has said Mr Mayorkas failed to enforce US laws at the border, which amounts to a “dereliction of duty”.
Committee chairman Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee, said impeachment does not just cover criminal behaviour, but also “gross incompetence” that can be seen as endangering fellow Americans or betraying public trust.
Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson said this is “not a legitimate impeachment” and suggested that Republicans were throwing “political red meat to their base” to keep “campaign cash coming”.
The hearing included testimony from attorneys general from Montana, Oklahoma and Missouri – states led by Republican governors – who said they have dealt with impacts from Mr Mayorkas’ policies.
“The southern border certainly presents a difficult challenge for any administration, but Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden administration have absolutely poured gasoline on this fire,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen testified.
House Speaker Mike Johnson recently led a delegation of Republicans to the border, where they got a “first-hand look at the damage and chaos the border catastrophe is causing in all of our communities”.
Mr Mayorkas also made a trip, one day before the impeachment hearing, where he put the blame on Congress, calling for it to fix immigration policies.
He said the accusation that he does not uphold US immigration laws “could not be further from the truth” and in a memo his department said that Republicans were making “baseless and pointless political attacks” instead of fixing “broken immigration laws”.
Currently, Mr Mayorkas is working with the White House and a bipartisan group of senators to tighten those laws, which Republicans have demanded in exchange for agreeing to President Joe Biden’s request for more aid for Ukraine and Israel.
Meanwhile, immigration has become one of the biggest hurdles facing President Biden’s push for re-election.
A CBS News poll, released this week, found that 63% of Americans want stricter border policies and 45% of Americans now say there is a crisis at the border.
Several Democratic mayors have expressed alarm at the rising number of migrants arriving in their cities, partly due to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s policy of busing new arrivals out of his state.
New York Mayor Eric Adams has previously warned the issue could “destroy” his city, pointing to a projection that housing the influx of migrants could cost taxpayers $12bn over the next three years.
But Democratic lawmakers also say Republicans’ move to remove Mr Mayorkas is politically motivated, with New York congressman Dan Goldman calling them an “embarrassment to the impeachment clause of the Constitution”.
Even if convicted in the Republican-controlled House, it is unlikely the Democratic-controlled Senate would find Mr Mayorkas guilty of any crimes.
Still, if he were impeached by the House, he would be the first cabinet official in nearly 150 years to go through the process.