By David Morgan and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday narrowly voted to impeach Democratic President Joe Biden's top border official, as immigration shapes up to be a major issue in this year's elections.
By a vote of 214-213, the House approved two articles of impeachment accusing Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of not enforcing U.S. immigration laws, which Republicans argue led to record flows of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, and making false statements to Congress.
The vote marked just the second time in U.S. history, and the first time in almost 150 years, that the House has impeached a member of a president's Cabinet. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's office said that senators would be sworn in as jurors shortly after they return from a break on Feb. 26.
The Democratic-led chamber is highly unlikely, however, to vote to remove Mayorkas from office.
A record number of migrants have illegally crossed the border from Mexico since Biden took office in 2021, and former President Donald Trump has made it a major focus of his campaign against Biden.
Tuesday's vote reversed an embarrassing legislative defeat that Speaker Mike Johnson suffered last week when a similar effort fell short. Republican Representative Steve Scalise, who missed last week's vote while he received treatment for cancer, provided the deciding vote on Tuesday.
Republicans hold a slim 219-212 majority in the House.
"Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and consistently refused to comply with federal immigration laws, fueling the worst border catastrophe in American history," Johnson said following the vote.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed that immigration was voters' No. 2 concern, following the economy.
No Democrats backed Tuesday's impeachment, while three Republicans -- Representatives Ken Buck, Tom McClintock and Mike Gallagher -- defied their leadership in voting no. They also voted against impeachment last week. A fourth Republican, Blake Moore, had also voted "no" last week in a procedural maneuver in order to allow the bill to be brought back for another vote at another date.
Mayorkas has said he does not bear responsibility for the border situation, blaming it instead on a broken U.S. immigration system that Congress has not been able to fix.
"Without a shred of evidence or legitimate constitutional grounds ... House Republicans have falsely smeared a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 20 years enforcing our laws and serving our country," Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said in a statement.
Constitutional experts and even some Republicans have said the House investigation of Mayorkas failed to provide evidence of the "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the U.S. Constitution cites as reasons for impeachment. Instead, they cast the fight as merely "policy disputes."
"History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games," Biden said in a statement.
The number of migrants arrested crossing the southern border illegally dropped by 50% in January from high levels in December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said on Tuesday, citing seasonal trends and increased enforcement by the United States and partner countries.
Tuesday's House impeachment vote comes a week after hardline Republicans in the Senate, egged on by Trump, defeated a bipartisan deal to address border security that would have been the most sweeping border security policy change in decades, according to its supporters, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
"House Republicans are largely in this fight to secure our national borders all by ourselves," Republican Representative John Rose said on Tuesday. "Essentially, (Democrats) like the job he's doing, or should I say not doing," Rose said, arguing for Mayorkas' impeachment.
The last Cabinet secretary to be impeached was President Ulysses S. Grant's secretary of war, William Belknap, in 1876 following allegations of corruption. He was acquitted by the Senate.
Trump was twice impeached by the House, when Democrats held the majority, and was twice acquitted by the Senate, which was in Republican hands.
House Republicans are currently investigating whether any of Biden's past behavior before moving into the White House might have constituted a high crime or misdemeanor that could result in impeachment. Some Republicans have said they do not see such evidence yet.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)