When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy led a group of House Republicans to the U.S.-Mexico border this year, he had a warning for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about what Republicans would do if they were in charge.
“At any time, if someone is derelict in their job, there is always the option of impeaching,” McCarthy told a crowd of reporters gathered near the border in April.
Months away from the midterm elections that could flip control of the House, Republican lawmakers already are plotting how they’ll handle immigration issues if they emerge victorious in November.
Stuck in the minority for four years, they’re eager to restart construction on former President Donald Trump’s border wall and undo Biden-era immigration policies. They also want to ramp up accountability for Biden administration officials such as Mayorkas, whom they blame for historically high border crossings.
This month, the House Republican Conference is poised to unveil plans for a future majority, developed by its American Security Task Force. Border security is expected to be a key component of that plan.
It’s a strategy that will ensure they’re prepared to take immediate action in January if they win. But it’s also a crucial part of their pitch to voters, including a deeply conservative base that has counted immigration as a top issue since Trump made it a centerpiece of his efforts as president.
“This is affecting all Americans of all backgrounds,” said California Rep. Tom McClintock, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. “Every community in America is becoming a border community.”
Republicans have not controlled the House since 2018 and are well positioned to win it back this November amid President Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings, record-high inflation and historical patterns suggesting one party never controls both chambers of Congress and the White House for long.
With Democrats still in control of the presidency and possibly the Senate, House Republicans say they would use their majority to pursue legislation that may not make it into law but would show voters what Republicans could accomplish if they controlled the whole government.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is poised to lead the Judiciary Committee if Republicans win the House, pointed to a Trump-era policy that required migrants to wait in Mexico pending decisions in their U.S. immigration court cases.
“We need legislation to put back in place ‘Remain in Mexico,’” Jordan said. “We need legislation to actually build the wall, finish the wall.”
The strategy could mirror the tack House Democrats took when they won the House in 2018: a slew of messaging bills that have little chance of becoming law but demonstrate the party’s priorities.
Facing narrow majorities in the 117th Congress, Democrats have struggled to move their immigration agenda, which would legalize millions of undocumented immigrants and cut visa backlogs. Their attempts to include immigration overhaul in a budget reconciliation bill last fall were foiled by parliamentary issues, and bipartisan Senate immigration talks have yielded little.
For Republicans, ramping up security at the U.S.-Mexico border is high on the list. So is broadening immigration enforcement in the interior of the country, beyond the Biden administration’s stated priorities of immigrants who threaten national security, public safety and border security.
“HR 1 in the next Congress should be the border security package,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, referring to the first bill to be officially introduced in the 118th Congress.
Conservative lawmakers also want to tighten asylum laws, contending that asylum has become an overly broad mechanism for people to travel to the border if they lack an alternative immigration pathway. Current U.S. immigration law allows anyone to present themselves at the border and seek asylum.
“It's just a mockery of asylum,” McClintock said. “Asylum is there for someone who has been persecuted by their government because they're a member of a discriminated class.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services currently has a backlog of more than 430,000 asylum cases, according to the Department of Homeland Security, with wait times that can stretch for years.
Without veto-proof majorities, House Republicans may also make border security an issue in the government funding process. Border security—specifically, Trump’s border wall—has thrown a wrench into government spending negotiations before. In early 2019, a showdown over funding border construction sparked a government shutdown.
“Republicans should not fund a government that refuses to carry out its constitutional duty and its legal duty to secure the border and enforce the law,” Roy said.
If they win, Republicans will likely use their newfound oversight powers in the House majority to lambaste the Biden administration on a variety of fronts, including the Afghanistan withdrawal, inflation and border security.
Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins is poised to become the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee after the retirement of current ranking member John Katko, R-N.Y.
Higgins said oversight efforts in his committee will center on Mayorkas, whom Republicans uniformly blame for a spike in border crossings and policies they say have incentivized illegal migration. Those policies include a more focused approach to enforcement and the exemption of some groups from pandemic-era asylum restrictions.
“The accountability agenda, securing the southern border and restoring sovereignty of our homeland, is the very top priority for a new Republican majority,” Higgins said.
Higgins said he hopes Mayorkas will resign before January. But he also warned that his caucus won’t hesitate to pursue impeachment if Mayorkas stays on the job.
“We're certainly planned for it,” Higgins said. “His impeachment will begin on January the 3rd. He's in clear violation of his oath.”
DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment. In numerous hearings, Mayorkas has shrugged off threats of a future impeachment, vowing to focus instead on his current efforts at the department.
Republicans’ pitch for action comes at a time of historically high encounters with migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border. The high numbers can be attributed in part to pandemic-era asylum restrictions under the public health directive known as Title 42, which encourages migrants to make multiple attempts to cross the border, as well as poor economic and humanitarian conditions in Latin and Central American countries.
But Republicans say the Biden administration’s decision to stop Title 42 expulsions of unaccompanied children and attempts to end the Remain in Mexico program have sent a message to migrants that the border is open.
“These numbers are not something that can be hidden in the shadows,” McClintock said. “I think that the American people are becoming very concerned over this mass incursion from our southern border.”
Roy, who represents a district in South Texas, says emphasizing border security could help Republicans win votes in the Hispanic community, where they already began making significant inroads in the 2020 election cycle.
Last month, Republicans flipped a historically Democratic House seat in South Texas. GOP candidate Mayra Flores campaigned on her experience as a Mexican immigrant and wife of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, criticizing the Democrats in control of Washington.
“Let me tell you that the temperature in Hispanic South Texas should cause all Republicans to recognize that a secure border is a strong win among Hispanic Americans,” Roy said.
Some Republicans see curbing illegal immigration as a winning issue even beyond the Biden presidency. For Higgins, it’s part of a long-term strategy to help Republicans win not only the House but also the Senate and, in 2024, the White House.