House Committee Threatens to Hold Janet Napolitano in Contempt

If DHS doesn't answer subpoena by tomorrow, House GOP may hold Secretary Napolitano in contempt.

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Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith is threatening to hold Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in contempt of Congress if officials don't provide subpoenaed information by tomorrow.

According to Smith, DHS hasn't sufficiently answered the House Judiciary Committee's November subpoena asking for the names and identifying information of the estimated 300,000 people who were flagged by the immigration-status checking program Secure Communities but were released and not placed in deportation proceedings.

[Read: DHS Task Force Puts 'Secure Communities' at Risk.]

And if the department doesn't fork over the requested information by Friday, Smith plans to hold a vote in the committee, which he chairs, to consider whether to begin proceedings to hold the department's head in contempt. Such a motion would need to be approved by the full House of Representatives.

Smith and other Republicans on the committee want to comb through the requested data to analyze why those individuals were arrested and released, and to see if any illegal immigrants released have committed additional crimes.

Committee Democrats, DHS, and the FBI have expressed concerns over privacy—particularly since the database used for Secure Communities sometimes flags legal residents or naturalized U.S. citizens. Also, not everyone fingerprinted in local precincts has committed a crime.

[Rep. Lofgren: DHS subpoena would return info on legal residents, citizens.]

DHS did provide some information, Smith acknowledged in a letter today to Napolitano, but he said it was not enough.

"I was surprised," he wrote, "when on November 10, DHS sent over documents in response to the subpoena that contained none of the identifying information that DHS had promised (and that is necessary to obtain criminal histories from the FBI)."

In the letter, Smith made it clear he believes he is getting the run-around, and he wants to know how far up the chain that goes.

"DHS officials were clear that the decision not to comply with the terms of the subpoena was made at a very high level," he wrote. "I reiterate my request that you inform me of whom you and other DHS officials have communicated with at the White House and elsewhere in the administration regarding my information request and the subpoena."

The letter threatens to hold DHS in contempt of Congress, but a House Judiciary staff member clarified that since Napolitano's name is on the subpoena, she would be the subject of any related contempt proceedings.

DHS representatives were unavailable for comment at press time, and the staffer said the department had not yet responded to the committee.

**UPDATED 12/8/11 at 5:20pm**

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian P. Hale emailed the following statement: "ICE is complying with the Committee's request and has begun to provide data as it becomes available and will continue to do so."