Republicans put immigration and border security front and center in Texas visit

WASHINGTON — Pushing to make border security a central issue in 2024, Speaker Mike Johnson and dozens of House Republicans headed to the southern border in Texas on Wednesday to draw attention to record migrant crossings and bash the Biden administration’s enforcement of immigration laws.

“Last month alone, we saw the most illegal crossings in recorded history. It is an unmitigated disaster, a catastrophe. And what’s more tragic is that it’s a disaster of the president’s own design,” Johnson, R-La., said at a news conference in Eagle Pass, Texas, where he was flanked by more than 60 GOP lawmakers.

The town has become a symbol of the need for immigration reform after images of hundreds of migrants amassing at the border circulated in the media.

“Under President Biden, America has laid out a welcome mat to illegal immigrants, smugglers and cartels,” the speaker continued. “He is responsible for the grave threat to our national security and our nation’s sovereignty that these policies have created.”

Image: Mike Johnson
House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks while standing with Republican members of Congress in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday.Eric Gay / AP

The visit comes as House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., said Wednesday that his panel will officially begin its effort next week to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for failing to secure the border — though there’s no guarantee Republicans will have enough votes to impeach him on the floor.

Green said the first impeachment hearing, titled “Havoc in the Heartland: How Secretary Mayorkas’ Failed Leadership Has Impacted the States,” will take place on Jan. 10, the same week lawmakers return from their holiday break.

“The greatest domestic threat to the national security and the safety of the American people is Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas,” Green said in Eagle Pass. “He, through his policies, has defied and subverted the laws passed by the United States Congress. He has defied multiple court orders. He has lied numerous times to the United States Congress. … He has broken his oath to defend this country.”

The chairman’s decision to press forward with impeachment follows the panel’s nearly yearlong investigation into Mayorkas and the border, culminating in a fifth and final interim report released on Dec. 21.

GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, one of Donald Trump’s most loyal allies on Capitol Hill, had unsuccessfully pushed to impeach Mayorkas multiple times. On Nov. 13, the House voted to refer her latest impeachment resolution against Mayorkas to the Homeland Security panel.

Mia Ehrenberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, slammed the GOP’s impeachment push as a “baseless political exercise” and “a harmful distraction from our critical national security priorities.”

Addressing the developments Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Mayorkas pointed to his meetings on Capitol Hill with a bipartisan group of senators trying to secure a deal to fix the immigration system. And Mayorkas said he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador last week to discuss ways to address rampant migration due to things like climate change and political instability — what he called a “regional problem that is challenging our entire hemisphere.”

Mayorkas also called on Congress to pass Biden’s $106 billion supplemental package that includes aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as border security funding. House Republicans, however, insist they won’t approve any foreign aid without tough border and immigration policies, with Johnson saying Wednesday that any Biden national security supplemental measure “better begin by defending America’s national security” on the border.

“More border patrol agents, more asylum officers, more immigration judges, more investment in technology to battle the scourge of fentanyl,” Mayorkas said on MSNBC. “We are focused on fixing the challenge, on fixing the problem. We are focused on solutions.”

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates knocked Johnson for traveling to the border rather than staying in Washington and helping to support the Senate border talks. Bates also took aim at Republicans for pushing for budget cuts last year that would have impacted border security.

Immigrants wait to be processed at a U.S. Border Patrol transit center after they crossed the border from Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Dec. 20, 2023.
Immigrants wait on Dec. 20 to be processed after having crossed the border in Eagle Pass, Texas. Migrant crossings are down this week.Francois Picard / AFP – Getty Images

“Actions speak louder than words,” Bates said in a statement. “House Republicans’ anti-border security record is defined by attempting to cut Customs and Border Protection personnel, opposing President Biden’s record-breaking border security funding, and refusing to take up the President’s supplemental funding request.”

The back-and-forth over the border comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection is experiencing record migrant border crossings. CBP encountered roughly 300,000 migrants at the southwest border in December, a record high, according to two Department of Homeland Security officials. Last month, CBP also saw the highest daily crossings on record at the southwest border, at times eclipsing 12,000 per day.

However, officials said the number of crossings often fluctuates. And on Monday, CBP said it encountered fewer than 500 migrants in the Del Rio sector of Texas, which includes Eagle Pass. Those lower figures came as the Biden administration announced it was reopening four ports of entry at the southern border, including at Eagle Pass, that had been closed due to the record influx of migrants.

On Wednesday at Eagle Pass, some Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona, began issuing a new warning: If Biden doesn’t shut down the border, Republicans will shut down the government this month.

“None of us want to shut down the government,” Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, a former mayor and former Trump administration official, said at Eagle Pass. “But we all recognize the fact that every single penny that we are giving to Homeland Security at this point that is not being used to secure our border, that is not being used to increase our national security … is hurting our national security, hurting our best interests and killing our economy and local governments.”

With Election Day now 10 months away and control of the White House, the Senate and the House all at stake, Johnson made it clear he views the border as a major political liability for Biden and the Democrats.

“The longer we wait, the longer we delay the closure and security of this border, the greater the crisis and the problem,” Johnson told reporters at the border.

“In large measure because of this issue, I do think that we’re going to have a change in the White House,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a Republican president. I think we’re going to win the Senate, and we’re going to expand the majority in the House.”