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MON: NM GOP lawmakers say they need Dem allies to stop gun legislation proposals, + More

Protesters gathered Saturday in front of the Roundhouse to protest gun control bills being considered at the legislative session.
Patrick Lohmann
Source NM
Protesters gathered Saturday in front of the Roundhouse to protest gun control bills being considered at the legislative session.

House Republican lawmakers say they need Democratic allies to stop gun legislation proposals - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

Republican lawmakers and political candidates rallied with supporters Saturday outside the New Mexico State Capitol to denounce proposed gun restrictions and lay out an electoral strategy to make inroads with conservative Democrats in order to get more gun rights supporters elected in the Roundhouse.

Five state GOP electeds joined gun rights advocates and encouraged the crowd to vote, donate, find new candidates and identify which current state lawmakers they can influence.

The speeches offered a view into how Republicans hope to overcome the Democratic majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. The rally was organized by the New Mexico Firearms Industry Association, the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association and the National Rifle Association.

During the rally, Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Sandia Park) referred to herself and the four other Republican elected officials on the stage as “the line between you and communism.”

“More than anything else, I need you guys to help me: You’ve got to go find me candidates, you’ve got to get people, you’ve got to donate, you’ve got to help us get reelected, because this is it,” Lord said.

Democrats have large majorities in each chamber. On the House side 45 Democratic lawmakers work with 25 Republican House members. In the Senate, the political composition is 27 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

Rep. John Block (R-Alamogordo) criticized Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham but took pains not to condemn all New Mexicans who vote Democrat: “Her party — the far left reaches of her party — have done everything possible to take away your Second Amendment rights, to torture your families, to take away your parental rights, and harm every person in this state for generations to come.”

Lord also corrected herself in the same way: “These Democrat — sorry — radical progressives do not care about any of you. You have become the enemy. Your government hates you.”

“This is completely the Bloomberg, Everytown, Moms Demand Action, out-of-state agenda,” she told the crowd. “Because you know what, our moderate Democrats want their firearms.”

Rep. Luis Terrazas (R-Santa Clara) said he is in office because of “good, strong Democrats.”

“This is not a Republican or Democrat situation,” Terrazas said. “This is an American, a New Mexican, right to bear arms. Why am I telling you this? Because we all have to come together as people that stand up for the Constitution, together.”

Sen. David Gallegos (R-Eunice) said he met with a group of constituents in Carlsbad in 2023 who told him, “If we can’t do our jobs, they will.”

“So when they don’t listen to us, they will listen to you,” Gallegos told the crowd. “We are here to represent you. We need them to listen to you and do what you’re asking of us, and it’s to protect your rights.”

House Bill 129, which would institute a seven-day waiting period before a person can purchase a gun, passed the House of Representatives on Friday by a 37-33 vote. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports eight Democrats joined the 25 House Republicans in opposition. Lujan Grisham supports several other pieces of gun legislation currently moving in the Roundhouse.

At the rally, Tara Mica, an NRA lobbyist for New Mexico and Texas, pointed to the vote tally on the House floor vote on HB 129, and asked the crowd to imagine what could have happened if more people had called or emailed their representatives.

“So remember that when Election Day comes later this year,” Mica said. “We need to flip a couple seats here. We need to replace these gun control supporters with supporters of our Second Amendment Rights.”

Both Mica and Rep. Randall Pettigrew (R-Lovington) said more legislation about guns will keep coming unless Republicans get out to vote.

“I need every single one of you to go to your Republican people in your district, I want you to go and find — Who is your ward leader? Who is your leader for your county? And I want you to hassle them,” Lord said. “I want you to ask them: What are you doing to get candidates? What are you doing to help us fight back, because guess what, we are two steps away from socialism in this state.”

Raymond Barnes, chairman of the GOP’s Ward 31 in northeast Albuquerque, encouraged the crowd to contact their ward and precinct leaders.

“We’ve got to do this from the ground up, folks. It’s not going to happen from the top down,” Barnes said. “When you have a representative who’s voting against your God-given rights, that person is doing the devil’s work, and we’ve got to rise up and we’ve got to eliminate them, we’ve got to get them out of office.”

House passes bill for affirmative consent training in colleges - Matthew Reichbach, New Mexico Political Report

A bill that would require post-secondary institutions that receive state funding to form trauma-informed response training for sexual assault, domestic and intimate partner violence and other issues passed the House early Sunday morning after a lengthy debate.

The bill passed after 3 a.m. on a 44-16 vote after three hours of debate.

The bill also mandates that every incoming student would be made aware of these services as well as being made aware of an affirmative consent standard before sexual activity. Bill supporters referred to this as “yes means yes” instead of “no means no.”

“The reason we have landed on post-secondary education is because of some of the events that happened with the Aggie basketball team last year with the sexual assault of players by older players and we thought that this was the time to have something in post-secondary education,” bill sponsor Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said.

The bill had 19 cosponsors.

“We have a different bill here tonight than we’ve had in the past,” bill co-sponsor Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said.

Chasey said that rather than imposing penalties, this bill “require that post-secondary institutions that receive public funding implement policies that are clear for the students so that all of the students in school, male and female, become aware of what the expectations are and really try to eliminate gray areas so that students feel safer on campus.”

The bill would also require post-secondary institutions to provide counseling, health care, mental health care, complainant advocacy, legal assistance and more to both complainants and responding parties.

Much of the debate came from Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis, who is a former prosecutor. She expressed concerns that some of the processes laid out could affect a criminal proceeding.

Thomson explained that the bill did not have anything to do with criminal proceedings and that much of what Reeb spoke about was guided by processes outlined in the federal Title IX standards.

Mark Duncan, R-Kirtland, attempted to amend the bill to require that universities must refer “any allegation of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence or harassment or stalking” to police.

“We can’t legally have mandatory reporting,” Thomson said.

She also said that this would discourage some people from reporting.

Duncan said that he felt there was a moral obligation to report any such allegation.

“I don’t think you can actually force a victim to report it,” Reeb said when asked about the proposal, though she said it may differ if the victim is a minor.

There is already mandatory reporting if the victim is a minor, Chasey explained.

Thomson also said it could discourage victims from coming forward.

Duncan withdrew the amendment, saying that it was not accurately written.

Many institutions, according to the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report, said that they already fulfilled many requirements of the bill, but that there could be some additional costs.

'No stone unturned:' Albuquerque police chief vows thorough investigation of corruption allegations - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The police chief in New Mexico's largest city vowed Friday that the Albuquerque Police Department will "leave no stone unturned" as it moves ahead with an internal investigation into allegations of possible corruption within the Driving While Intoxicated unit.

Chief Harold Medina declined to give many specifics during a news conference Friday, saying he didn't want to compromise the work being done by his agency or the FBI. Still, he tried to ease public concerns by saying the department has been working with the district attorney's office to streamline the process for flagging when officers fail to appear in court for those cases in which a motorist is suspected of driving drunk or impaired.

Medina shared a timeline of DWI cases dating back to 2015. He said changes in how the department and prosecutors handle such cases has led to fewer dismissals overall in the last two years. In 2019, the dismissal rate topped 43%. Last year, only 3% of the 1,027 cases filed were dismissed.

The chief said he, like other officers, has worked hundreds of DWI cases over his career and that it has long been a tactic of defense attorneys to seek delays with the hope of officers eventually not being able to show up in court.

While refusing to point fingers at the district attorney's office or any of his own officers, he said the overall system still needs fixing.

"Systems that struggle, systems that have loopholes are really open to corruption," he said, referencing a conversation he had with fellow officers over breakfast in which they shared concerns and talked about what the department will be reviewing as it moves forward.

"We're dealing with stuff that we anticipate started decades ago, and we've done a lot of things that have got us to this point," Medina said. "But we will continue to dig and look and leave no stone unturned and make sure that we get to the bottom of this."

As part of the federal investigation, search warrants were recently served at the homes of officers who had worked with the DWI unit and a prominent local defense attorney who had served for years as chairman of the state Public Defender Commission. Those warrants remain sealed and federal officials have refused to discuss the specifics of the case.

Medina confirmed five officers remain on administrative leave pending Albuquerque's internal investigation. No one has been charged or arrested.

According to documents obtained by the Albuquerque Journal, the probe began following a stop by one of the officers last August in which he allegedly told the driver that he should contact a certain attorney, who, if hired, would ensure that no case would be filed in court by the police department.

Medina said his staff first heard vague allegations about possible corruption within the DWI unit more than two years ago and learned last year that federal authorities were looking into the claims. He said he didn't want to come forward then and risk compromising either investigation.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller last week issued a statement saying, if true, the allegations are a disgrace and erode faith in law enforcement. Some members of the City Council also sent the chief a letter, demanding answers and requesting that he appear at the next council meeting.

Medina said Friday he would be willing to do so but that he's limited from sharing specific and confidential information. He sent the council a letter Thursday that provided details about how such cases move through the court, required pre-trial interviews, policies about officers appearing in court and the disciplinary process for officers who miss court dates.

The letter cites four cases in 2023 in which officers were disciplined for failing to appear at required pretrial interviews, court hearings or trial settings.

Medina said the police force recently gained access to court system data and is now working to automate tracking of officer appearances.

2nd defendant pleads guilty in drive-by shootings on homes of Democratic lawmakers - Associated Press

A second defendant has pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of state and local lawmakers in Albuquerque after the 2022 election, the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office announced Friday.

Demetrio Trujillo pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy, election interference and firearms-related charges, officials said. The 42-year-old will remain in custody pending sentencing, which has not been scheduled.

Raul Bujanda, special agent in charge of the FBI Albuquerque field office, announced the developments in a news release.

Federal and state prosecutors allege that the attacks were orchestrated by former Republican candidate Solomon Peña following his electoral defeat in November 2022, as he made unfounded claims that the vote had been rigged against him.

Peña maintains his innocence. His trial scheduled for June.

The attacks on the homes of four Democratic officials, including the current state House speaker, took place in December 2022 and January 2023. The came amid a surge of threats and acts of intimidation against elections workers and public officials across the country after former President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Demetrio's son Jose Louise Trujillo previously pleaded guilty to illegal use of a firearm in connection with the shootings, as well as fentanyl possession with the intent to distribute.

Alexander Uballez, the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, has said the shootings targeted the homes of two county commissioners shortly after and because of their certification of the 2022 election, in which Peña lost his bid to serve in the state Legislature. No one was injured, but in one case bullets passed through the bedroom of a state senator's 10-year-old daughter.

Following the shootings, New Mexico state lawmakers enacted legislation that provides felony sanctions for intimidation of election regulators and allows some public officials and political candidates to keep their home address off government websites.

New Mexico Democrats push to criminalize fake electors before presidential vote - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico Democrats who control the Legislature want to make it a crime to pose as a fake presidential elector in one of the few states where Republicans signed certificates in 2020 falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner.

Legislators advanced a bill Friday on a party-line committee vote that would make it a felony starting in the 2024 presidential election to submit a fake elector certificate "knowingly or recklessly." The Legislature's Republican minority would need Democratic support to vote down the legislation, which carries criminal penalties like those being considered in a handful of other states.

Republican electors signed certificates in seven states — mostly with battleground contests — indicating falsely that Trump had won the 2020 election, a strategy at the center of criminal charges against Trump and his associates.

In New Mexico, President Joe Biden won by 11 percentage points, or about 100,000 votes — the largest margin among the states where so-called fake electors have been implicated.

Last year, Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a bill that would have made it a crime to sign certificates falsely stating that a losing political candidate has won, with penalties of between four and 10 years in prison. In Colorado, where there were no false elector certificates in 2020, the Democratic-led Legislature is considering a bill that would make participating in a fake elector scheme a crime and ban people who do from office.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, in January announced his decision not to prosecute local Republicans who signed the elector certificates — while urging lawmakers to provide legal authority for prosecuting similar conduct in the future and enhance the security of the state's electoral process.

"We should recognize the seriousness of this conduct," he told a state Senate panel in January.

On Friday in Santa Fe, Republican state Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque said the legislation is "politically motivated against a different party." He voted against it, noting that felony provisions are especially stiff. Violations would be punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Fake electors didn't change Biden's win in 2020, he said.

"I do not think there was any intent in New Mexico to change the outcome," he said. "I think that if we could remove the politics that is the undertone of this, it would be a different situation."

In New Mexico and Pennsylvania, fake electors added a caveat saying the certificate was submitted in case they were later recognized as duly elected, qualified electors. That would only have been possible if Trump had won any of several dozen legal battles he waged against states in the weeks after the election.

Democratic officials have launched separate investigations in some states, resulting in indictments against GOP electors.

In December, a Nevada grand jury indicted six Republicans with felony charges in connection with false election certificates. They have pleaded not guilty.

Michigan's Attorney General filed felony charges in July 2023 against 16 Republican fake electors, including forgery and conspiracy to commit election forgery. For one of them, charges were dropped after reaching a cooperation deal. The top charge carried a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Three fake electors also have been charged in Georgia alongside Trump and others in a sweeping indictment accusing them of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally overturn the results of the presidential election. They have pleaded not guilty.

The New Mexico bill, from Democrats including Majority House Floor Leader Gail Chasey of Albuquerque, also would establish felony penalties for disrupting election results — defined as knowingly or recklessly suppressing, defacing, altering, forging or otherwise falsifying election documents, or preparing or submitting false election documents.

Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce has accused the state attorney general of trying to criminalize a process "used by both Democrats and Republicans," referring to the 1960 presidential election. Democratic electors in Hawaii cast votes for John F. Kennedy despite that state initially being called for Republican Richard Nixon.

But the outcome of the Hawaii election was unclear, requiring a recount, and Nixon would end up losing the state. After the 2020 election, every court challenge the Trump campaign and its allies filed to contest his loss has failed.

Bill to end immigration detention in New Mexico advances - By Susan Dunlap,New Mexico Political Report

A bill to end immigration detention in New Mexico passed Senate Health and Public Affairs on a party-line vote of 6-3 on Wednesday.

SB 145, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is a bill that would prohibit public bodies in New Mexico from entering into intergovernmental contracts with private entities and end such intergovernmental agreements that public bodies in New Mexico have already entered into. Sedillo Lopez introduced an amendment to the bill, also adopted by the committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, to add language to prevent someone from “gaming the system.”

“And do an amendment before the statute is effective. They might end up in negotiation for 500 days or whatever. We don’t want that to happen. As soon as the statute is effective, the termination needs to be for the earliest date permissible,” Sedillo Lopez said.

The bill would impact Torrance, Otero and Cibola counties, all of which have intergovernmental agreements with for-profit companies that operate three immigrant detention centers in the state. All three detention centers have been cited for human rights violations, expert witness Sophia Genovese, senior attorney with New Mexico Immigration Law Center, said. Genevose said there are six attorneys in New Mexico offering legal services to asylum seekers held in these detention centers and around 2,000 detained.

She cited physical abuse, due process violations, bug and rodent infestations, forced labor, medical conditions ignored, sewage leaks, a lack of drinking water and inedible food. She said the individuals are “treated worse than animals” and are losing weight, look emaciated and are getting sick.

Representatives from all three counties spoke during public comment and said shutting down the facilities would lead to an economic loss to their communities in terms of wages, jobs, county bonds as well as the income the county receives for these intergovernmental contracts.

State Sen. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said he found the conditions described “deplorable” but said he was concerned that terminating the contracts would impact “a lot of people who live in those counties and who derive their income and their economic base,” from the facilities. He said that driving the detention facilities out of New Mexico would only drive the detention with the same conditions elsewhere.

“At least we would not be complicit in it,” Sedillo Lopez said.

State Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, asked a similar question, saying that with the U.S. Congress appropriating funding to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for more than $1 billion to house migrants, if the government will send the migrants to another location in the U.S.

Genovese said that this bill is part of a growing movement amongst states and that if New Mexico enacts it, it would become the eighth state to do so. She said that the more states that pass this law, the fewer beds the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have available.

“It’s truly random who is detained and who is released. What drives the decision is ICE bed space. You can help asylum seekers seek asylum from the comfort of their home where they can access legal resources and social services [if the bill is enacted]. We can’t control what happens out of state, but we can send a strong message to our federal government,” Genovese said.

State Sen. Steven McCutcheon II, R-Carlsbad, asked what would happen to the individuals detained on May 15, if the bill is enacted.

Genovese said there would be a winding down period that would last, depending on the individual contract, for 60 days or 120 days. She said most asylum seekers have sponsors in the U.S. they could be released to.

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that if the individuals detained are fleeing their home countries for political or religious asylum or they are fleeing violence. He also asked that, with so few judges to hear the asylum seekers’ claims and so few resources to help the asylum seekers, “how long does it take before they get a hearing?”

Genovese said that some are deprived of their due process before the hearing during the credible fear interview.

Ortiz y Pino said that a lot of problems would “vanish very quickly,” if asylum seekers were allowed to live in their communities in the U.S. and seek their claim for asylum from their homes.

“They would do the jobs people are dying for people to do. They could rent their own places. It’s a problem of our own making by trying to be tough on immigration. We’re hitting people who are following the law and making it harder for everybody,” he said.

The bill heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Lawmakers begin putting this year’s tax package together - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Last year, lawmakers sprinted at the end of the 60-day session to get Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a tax package, only to have her line-item veto a number of provisions. In this year’s shorter, 30-day session, theSanta Fe New Mexican reports legislators are getting an earlier start.

Members of the Senate and House tax committees met Friday to begin the process.

Democratic Rep. Derrick Lente said the forum would hopefully help lawmakers “be timely and efficient” and “avoid what happened last year,” while also bringing more transparency to how the bill comes together.

Democratic Sen. Carrie Hamblen said the Legislature is aiming to get the package in front of the governor before chaos really starts setting in” as the session nears its end on February 15.

A number of changes to the tax code that the governor stripped last year may end up back in this year’s proposal, including tax breaks and tax bracket adjustments.

Days vs hours: Behind the budget amendment bringing together Democrats and Republicans - By Megan Taros,Source New Mexico

In direct contrast with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s extended school time initiatives, 17 Democrats sided with a Republican-backed amendment to the House budget passed on Wednesday that would allow schools to continue having four-day school weeks.

The original House budget included a proposal to not approve the operational budget of schools that had fewer instruction days than last year, or if they are only in session four days a week if a four-day week was not offered in the 2021-2022 school year. Both align with a mandatory 180-day attendance rule proposed by the New Mexico Public Education Department, which has the support of the governor.

The budget was introduced to the New Mexico Senate on Thursday, where it is unknown if it will vote with the same bipartisanship.

The governor’s office affirmed its support for 180-school days, citing improved student outcomes for schools already on such a school schedule.

“This administration is focused on using every tool at our disposal to improve the quality of education for every New Mexico student, and more time in the classroom yields results,” the governor’s spokeswoman Maddy Hayden wrote in an email to Source New Mexico.

Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-Magdalena), who introduced the amendment, asked the Legislature not to fund the potential school day rule. She said it would hinder the ability of school districts to make their own decisions and cause hardship.

A bill passed last year increased the number of mandatory instruction hours per week but allowed individual school districts to decide how to break down those hours during the school year.

“We did that on purpose because we wanted to give school districts the option,” Armstrong said.

Bipartisan lawmakers voted together to support local control.

Rep. Tara Jaramillo (D-Socorro) voted in favor of the amendment because she thought the bill settled the discussion and was concerned about changing the rules against the input of constituents.

“To be clear, I like five-day school weeks,” Jaramillo said. “But I don’t like not listening to the constituents throughout New Mexico.”

She said that the focus for new education initiatives should target struggling schools, and to invest in what works, such as smaller classes for new teachers and the creation of community schools.

“I hope we can move past arguments about four or five days and think about innovative education,” Jaramillo said.

During the debate on the amendment, lawmakers questioned if students in rural and tribal communities actually benefited from extra school days when many have to spend hours in commuting time, which will increase with an additional day.

“When you represent a district where children have to hop on a bus when it’s still dark, spend an hour to get to school, go back and get home when it’s dark again, it’s very difficult,” said. Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) in an interview on Thursday. “Are they really going to appreciate that time on the bus? Are they really learning anything when they could be learning closer to home and doing things that are important to them?”

Lente reintroduced a tribal education trust fund bill this year that would give money to tribes to build capacity in their communities to create bilingual and multicultural education programs, extra curricular activities and other support systems for Native students on tribal lands.

He echoed sentiments about local control, emphasizing the need for tribes to have the authority to make decisions that work best for their students.

“Native communities that are far removed from public schools then have the capacity in those communities to have places to learn about their culture and language, safe places to learn,” Lente said. “That’s everything we’ve been talking about when it comes to (education) reform.”

Financial hardship to keep schools running for an extra day also raised concern for lawmakers. Smaller schools would have to spend more on meals, fuel and utilities to stay open an additional day.

Bipartisan lawmakers criticized the governor and state agencies for attempting to override their decisions

“These smaller school districts can’t afford that extra day of busing, of custodian work, of cafeteria work,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell). “And now it’s gotta be changed by someone who says ‘I have the authority to do it?’ What’s happened to our authority? We are the ones that are listening to our constituents … I am not going to stand for this.”

Rep. Ryan Lane (R-Aztec) said the amendment is not an “R vs. D” issue, but staying faithful to a decision the Legislature made and to the will of constituents.

“We made a decision after a lot of deliberation that we were going to fund our local schools through hours and not through days,” Lane said. “This language would make sure that the legislature’s will is accomplished, that the people of New Mexico’s will is accomplished regardless of what a particular executive agency tries to do through rulemaking.”

Mayorkas is driven by his own understanding of the immigrant experience. Many in GOP want him gone - By Rebecca Santana, Associated Press

To his supporters, Alejandro Mayorkas is a thoughtful, driven secretary who brings a prosecutor's tenacity and his personal understanding of the immigrant experience in America to running his sprawling agency. To his detractors, he personifies everything that has gone wrong at the U.S.-Mexico border and is responsible for allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants into the United States illegally in a burgeoning crisis.

Mayorkas, often referred to as Ali, is the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security, one of the government's biggest agencies with 260,000 employees. And if House Republicans get their way, he'll also be the first Cabinet member impeached in nearly 150 years.

The agency was forged in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to bring together 22 various agencies and departments. Tom Warrick, a former top counterterrorism official at the agency who is now at the Atlantic Council, says it's the second-toughest job in Washington.

"Only the president's is tougher. The secretary of DHS has to oversee the most diverse mission portfolio in the federal government. And almost all of it is a high-wire act where failure would have enormous consequences," Warrick said.

In just a few examples of the agency's diverse responsibilities, over the past year Homeland Security worked with historically Black colleges and universities to respond to bomb threats, set up an AI-task force to figure out how best to use the nascent technology and protected President Joe Biden on his trip to Ukraine.

But it is the department's role in immigration that has made Mayorkas a target of impeachment. The House could vote on impeachment as soon as this coming week, although it's unclear whether Republicans have enough support within their slim majority to push it through.

When Biden chose Mayorkas to head the department, the nominee was seen by many as someone who would bring a more humane hand to immigration following the administration of Republican President Donald Trump, whose policies to stem the flow of migrants fueled outrage.

He was first sworn into government service in 1989 as a prosecutor in California.

"I am deeply devoted to the reasons why I entered public service many, many years ago .. .unwaveringly so," he said during a recent interview with The Associated Press.

His family left Cuba in 1960 when he was a baby and eventually settled in Los Angeles. His mother had fled the Holocaust before arriving in Cuba. When Mayorkas was a child, his mother didn't want him going to sleepovers or away to camp after she had lost so many family members to the Holocaust, the secretary has said.

"This country meant a lot to my parents and to what they could provide to my sister and me," he said. "I also understand the fragility of life, what it means to be displaced."

Supporters say he is driven by commitment to public service and that impeachment is completely at odds with what they know of the law-and-order-minded former prosecutor.

Cecilia Munoz, who worked closely with Mayorkas during the Obama administration, praised his tenure as head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, where she says he put in place a program giving protection from deportation to migrants brought to the border as children in "light speed." She also noted his efforts to get Haitian children, orphaned by the 2010 earthquake, into the U.S. to people who wanted to adopt them.

"For him, the most meaningful thing you can do in government is stick with the thorny problem so that a kid can ... find his family," she said.

Since joining Biden's Cabinet, Mayorkas has been subject to often hostile rhetoric over the administration's handling of the border and immigration.

Republicans argue that he has been the architect of an immigration system that they say has no consequences for migrants who come to the U.S. illegally and that serves as a major factor in pulling them to America. GOP lawmakers say the campaign language that Biden used to hammer Trump's policies sent a message to would-be migrants that U.S. borders were now open, and they say the Democratic administration either got rid of policies that were working under Trump to curb migration or put in place new ones that are failing.

Republicans particularly criticize Mayorkas for what they say is a failure to detain migrants and for his use of humanitarian parole to admit hundreds of thousands of people into the country who otherwise could not get a visa.

"He's intentionally just bringing the people in and releasing them into the country," said GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that voted along party lines Wednesday in favor of impeaching Mayorkas. "The mass migration wave that's occurred is because there's no consequences to crossing the border now."

Only once in American history has a Cabinet secretary been impeached: William Belknap, war secretary in the administration of President Ulysses Grant, in 1876 over kickbacks in government contracts.

Targeting an official for impeachment over a policy dispute — in Mayorkas' case, over the Republicans' claim that he is not upholding immigration laws — is unprecedented.

Brandon Judd is the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents agents and endorsed Trump for president. Judd argues that when Mayorkas says things such as Homeland Security is putting migrants into deportation proceedings, it leads people to believe the government is moving faster and being tougher than Judd says it is.

Judd said agents complain to him that they are not able to do the job they signed up for because they constantly are being pulled off to process migrants. "You don't feel good in the job that you're doing as a Border Patrol agent right now," he said.

Mayorkas says he does not take the criticism personally and says the allegations driving impeachment are "baseless."

He is adamant that the impeachment process is not distracting him from his work and is prepared to defend himself in the Democratic-controlled Senate if there is a trial.