WASHINGTON (CN) – Testimony from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano quickly descended into another partisan shouting match Thursday as Republicans demanded answers on immigration, prosecutorial discretion and high-level security leaks.
“DHS is responsible for the enforcement of America’s immigration laws,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said. “But under the current administration the department has instead worked to undermine those laws.”
Echoing a June oversight hearing with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that became a melee of accusations, Democrats came to the aid of Napolitano.
The arguments praised the government’s implementation of a law titled Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. Known more commonly in its abbreviated form, the Dream Act grants conditional citizenship to children who fit a certain moral profile.
Democrats made repeated references to a group of young adults granted amnesty under Dream Act requirements who attended the hearing.
“You’ve seen Secretary Napolitano standing firm on the deferred policy of the federal government,” Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, D-P.R., told the Dream Act group. “That means you’ve seen your dreams stay alive.”
The House passed the bill in 2010, proposing temporary residency for illegal aliens brought to the U.S. as minors, or who have lived in the country for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.
Though the bill failed to get 60 votes in the Senate, President Obama announced earlier this year that the administration would not deport young undocumented immigrants if they met certain criteria from the Dream Act bill.
Napolitano took heat from Republicans on Thursday who said Obama had legislated through executive orders.
“More than a century and a half ago, the Supreme Court noted that the president’s constitutional power to enforce our laws does not imply that they can forbid their execution,” Smith said. “President Obama understood this when he admitted last year that ‘there are laws on the books that Congress has passed,’ so the administration cannot ‘just suspend deportations through executive order.'”
Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., argued that “if anybody deserves to be treated as though they are not criminals, it’s the kids who had no responsibility for bringing themselves into this country.”
Smith and other Republicans also questioned Napolitano fiercely on security leaks, specifically information allegedly leaked by a Muslim member of the DHS advisory council.
DHS Security Advisory Council member Mohamed Elibiary is suspected of having accessed classified information and shopped it to the media.
“You follow me around the world, and you see me hugging Muslims because they’re my friends,” Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, said.
Radical Muslims accessing classified documents are a national security threat, Gohmert added.
He raised his voice several times during his questioning and was visibly upset that Napolitano wouldn’t give a yes or no answer to the issue.
Napolitano said the insinuation is “demeaning to the Judiciary Committee.”
Though immigration and security leaks dominated discussion at the hearing, the committee also discussed the bomb threats that shut down the Detroit Windsor Bridge and the influx of counterfeit products and coupons.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., harshly criticized Napolitano on the department’s failure to phase in 100 percent scanning of cargo containers.
Less than 4 percent of all containers are scanned, Nadler said.
Unlike his Republican colleagues, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin began his questioning by joking that Napolitano had “softened him up” by supporting the Green Bay Packers.
He then asked her about 1.6 million people who have reportedly overstayed their visas.
Napolitano said those numbers are overstated, and that the DHS found that over half of those people had already left the country or had changed their statuses.
Both Democrats and Republicans protested and complained throughout the course of the 2 1/2-hour meeting that they needed more than five minutes per member to question Napolitano.
The secretary agreed to accept additional questions after the hearing via letter, and promised a timely reply.