On March 15, the House Homeland Security Committee held the seventh hearing ostensibly about the border in seven weeks. Like the prior six hearings, Republicans continue to use these hearings to perform their political theatrics for a spot on Fox News without a substantive policy discussion, while some members use the forum to amplify white nationalist conspiracy theories.
Republicans schlepped down to McAllen, Texas for the latest of these political stunt hearings on the taxpayer’s dime. As New York Times reporters Annie Karni and Catie Edmondson describe the situation in Congress, “at a time when they [Republicans] are hard-pressed to get anything concrete done on Capitol Hill, House Republicans are increasing the budgets of their congressional committees and going out on the road”.
The field hearing was a Republican-only affair as Democrats decided to skip the wasteful, partisan stunt. “Unfortunately, it has become clear that Republicans planned to politicize this event from the start, breaking with the Committee’s proud history of bipartisanship,” ranking member Bennie Thompson told CNN about the decision to not attend the hearing.
At the hearing, Rep. Dale Strong (R-AL) echoed a deadly, racist fiction saying, “our country is under attack. America is being invaded. No American is safe…This invasion is an American issue.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) continued this deadly “invasion” rhetoric by asking the three witnesses, “what are the things that have contributed to this invasion? What are the policies?”
This language of invasion refers to the white nationalist great replacement conspiracy theory. A racist fiction that has been the inspiration for multiple acts of political violence and domestic terrorism over the last several years. It was chanted in the streets of Charlottesville in 2017, posted online before a man murdered 11 in Pittsburgh in 2018, shared in racist screeds before the murder in Poway and the murder of 23 in El Paso in 2019, believed by those who attacked the Capitol in 2021, and copied by the gunman who killed ten people in Buffalo in May 2022. Dr. Heidi Beirich, the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, draws a direct connection between the rhetoric and the violence, saying, “When migrants are described as invaders, that leads to violence,” she said. “Because how else does one stop an invasion?”
It’s even worse. Strong and Greene are using the very committee tasked with overseeing threats to the Homeland to amplify white nationalist conspiracy theories tied to domestic terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, the FBI, Attorney General, and Secretary of Homeland Security have all testified that the threat from violent domestic extremists is a leading terrorist concern. In November 2022 and again in December 2022, DHS issued memos warning about threats to migrants and infrastructure at the southern border in response to anti-immigrant-related concerns.
But rather than address the very real threat of domestic terrorism facing the nation, most Republicans, including Chairman Mark Green (R-TN) on the House Homeland Security Committee, have exacerbated the problem by amplifying the white nationalist great replacement conspiracy theory.
Republicans also continued their disturbing pattern of inviting witnesses with a history of promoting white nationalist conspiracies and palling around with hate groups. In this latest hearing, Republicans invited Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe who was one of a handful of local elected officials in Texas who declared the state to be suffering an “invasion,” echoing the white nationalist great replacement conspiracy theory. Coe also has collaborated with a far-right militia group harassing migrants along the border and the legal arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group FAIR.
Another key element of these repetitive hearings for Republicans is their effort to provide fuel for a sham impeachment of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Republicans are trying to lay the disingenuous trap around the phrase “operational control.” Pulling from the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Republicans are looking to set the unattainable standard that just one unauthorized crossing is “evidence” for losing “operational control” of the border. No DHS Secretary ever, including anyone serving in that post under Trump, would have met that standard. Even the Berlin Wall would have failed to meet that standard, but that is hardly the vision of U.S. borders we should be aiming for. It’s a goal that can never be met – by design. Republicans are not making a serious substantive argument here about sensible policies and solutions but are trying to lay a linguistic trap to pursue a partisan witch hunt. It probably gets these GOP members the gotcha moment they are looking for but it isn’t substantive or serious and does nothing to advance what the U.S. should be doing on the border.
Republicans brought in Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz to lay this rhetorical trap. Chairman Green asked, “Chief Ortiz, does DHS have operational control of the entire border?”
“No, sir,” Ortiz replied.
The Republican House Homeland Security quickly sent out an email highlighting their rhetorical trap and pushed out the exchange with their right-wing media allies to drive this “evidence” against Secretary Mayorkas.
Chairman Green also used the hearing to amplify misinformation and racist fear-mongering around a video from the prior weekend of asylum seekers being prevented entry into the U.S. On Sunday, hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants who had been prevented from being able to make their legal asylum claim and frustrated by a new Biden administration policy forcing asylum claims to be filtered through a new app plagued with errors, headed to one of the El Paso official ports of entry after misinformation circulated online that gave the impression that they would be able to schedule an appointment. The rumor was not true, the crowd dissipated without major incident, and the El Paso port of entry reopened for normal business by early Sunday evening. Similar rumors are a constant but predictable problem as desperate families look for safety.
Instead of legislating or crafting solutions, the hearing was yet more political theater where Republicans performed their anti-immigrant hysterics for the camera and pushed pernicious narratives about so-called “open-border” and blamed asylum seekers for fentanyl when the facts show neither is true. Theater and stunts are all Republicans have and they will continue their dangerous demagoguery until they face serious political consequences for their actions.