Disgruntled Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are suing their bosses over changes made to deportation policy by President Barack Obama.

A lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of 10 ICE agents against the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and ICE Director John Morton asks the courts to overturn the June 15 directive by Obama to suspend deportation proceedings and offer work authorization to some immigrants brought here illegally as children.  

The ICE agents accuse the Obama administration of keeping them from enforcing immigration law, and of overstepping Congress by changing deportation policy through a directive rather than legislation.

“The Directive commands ICE officers to violate federal law,” the lawsuit says.

Chris Crane, the president of ICE agents' union who is suing Napolitano and Morton, accused the Obama administration of ignoring the demands of ICE agents when formulating the new policy.

The Directive commands ICE officers to violate federal law.

- Crane v. Napolitano lawsuit

“We’ve repeatedly tried to work with the administration and they’ve just excluded us from everything since day one,” Crane said on a conference call with reporters announcing the lawsuit.

Crane went on to say that the new guidelines left agents powerless to enforce immigration law because they had no way to distinguish who qualifies for deferred deportation.

“The alien has no burden of proof to establish that claim,” Crane said. “So we’re not enforcing the law anymore, we’re not enforcing the policy. It’s pretty much just let everyone go.”

Obama has set new records for deportations in each year of his presidency, nearly reaching 400,000 people last fiscal year.  

The plaintiffs say that some ICE agents have been suspended for attempting, over the objections of their superiors, to put undocumented immigrants that may qualify for deferred action into deportation proceedings.

The plaintiffs don’t just take issue with the deferred deportation directive—they also object to last year’s memo from Morton directing ICE to focus on deporting those with criminal records, using the agency’s power of prosecutorial discretion.  

“This lawsuit is based on the core principle that no administration, Republican or Democrat, should order federal agents to break federal law,” lead attorney Kris Kobach said on a conference call with reporters announcing the lawsuit.

Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is the architect of the controversial law cracking down on illegal immigration in Arizona, which was imitated in states including Georgia and Alabama. He serves as an informal adviser to presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Roy Beck of Numbers USA, an organization that supports ramping up immigration law enforcement, said he’d like to see Romney support the lawsuit and say he’d overturn the deferred deportation policy.

After Obama announced the new policy, Romney refused to say whether he would overturn it if he were elected.  

The Obama administration defends the policy, saying that the federal government should use its limited resources to focus on deporting convicted criminals and those who pose a national security threat, rather than young people who were brought to the country illegally by their parents, generally without choosing to do so.

A national poll by the Wall Street Journal, NBC News and Telemundo conducted within weeks of Obama’s announcement found 68 percent of respondents supported the new deportation policy. Among Latinos, the figure shot up to 87 percent.

The new deportation policy allows some undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation and be granted a work permit for up to two years. Under the program, immigrants have to prove that they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, have been in the country for at least five years, are 30 or younger, are in school or have graduated or have served in the military may be eligible. They cannot have a criminal record or otherwise be considered a threat to public safety or national security.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started accepting applications for the program on Aug. 15. Immigrants have to pay a $465 paperwork fee for the program.

DHS officials have not said how many people might be eligible under the program, though the Pew Hispanic Center and others have estimated that about 1.7 million people could be covered.

An internal DHS document obtained by The Associated Press shows that the government estimated receiving about 1.04 million applications in the program's first year, with about 890,000 being immediately eligible.

The document estimated that the program could cost between $467.7 million and $585.4 million. The department anticipated collecting about $484.2 million in fees.

Includes reporting from the Associated Press.

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