Alejandro Mayorkas told The New York Times the migrant surge isn't because of early Biden moves.
"I think that people leave their homes because of the conditions under which they suffer," he said.
House Republicans, who've long clashed with Mayorkas, are pushing to impeach him.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas rejected the notion that President Joe Biden's early immigration moves caused a surge in migrants at the US-Mexico border in a recent interview.
While speaking with The New York Times Magazine, Mayorkas, who has repeatedly clashed with congressional Republicans during his tenure, said the Biden administration's desire to pivot away from many of former President Donald Trump's most draconian immigration policies didn't cause a humanitarian crisis at the border.
"I think that people leave their homes because of the conditions under which they suffer," Mayorkas told the Times.
"I will say that if one wants to speak of rhetoric and the message it sends, what do you think the message is when a politician stands up and says the border is open, which it isn't?" he continued.
When Mayorkas was asked if he was referring to Trump and many of the former president's most ardent conservative allies, he concurred.
"Correct. And that is both inaccurate and harmful," he said. "Those words are then taken by the smugglers that exploit the vulnerable. They know how to reach desperate people, and they use those words as truth to drive human behavior."
Since Biden has been in office, Mayorkas has become the face of Republican frustrations over the president's immigration policies, with scores of GOP lawmakers calling for the US-Mexico border to shut down as the country in recent years has struggled with a surge in illegal crossings.
In December 2023, illegal border crossings from Mexico resulted in a record monthly high of nearly 250,000 arrests, according to US Border Patrol. The figure represented a 13% increase from the roughly 222,000 arrests in December 2022.
The illegal border crossings have become a major political vulnerability for Biden, who has signed on to a bipartisan border bill that could pass the Senate but would face stiff resistance from House Republicans. Trump, who has made immigration a centerpiece of his 2024 campaign, has encouraged Republicans to scuttle the bipartisan effort.
House Republicans dramatically escalated their campaign to oust Mayorkas from his position this week. On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled Homeland Security Committee voted to send impeachment articles to the House for a vote, castigating the secretary for what they've long alleged is his refusal to enforce existing immigration laws.
Mayorkas slammed the impeachment effort as "baseless" and rejected what he said was a political impetus behind the impeachment vote.
"I am not engaged in politics," he told the Times. "I'm engaged in the work of the Department of Homeland Security."
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