ICE agents filed suit against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton.

Story highlights

The agents oppose the Obama administration's new priorities on deportation

They say obeying the new police could put them in violation of federal law

They oppose policy allowing some young people a 2-year relief period from deportation

A DHS spokesman responds that new policies target criminals and recent border-crossers

Washington CNN  — 

A group of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents is going to court, saying new Obama administration directives on removing illegal immigrants could put them in violation of federal law.

Ten ICE agents filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Dallas against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton.

The organization NumbersUSA, with it’s self-proclaimed stance of “for lower immigration,” quickly claimed a stake in the suit, saying on its website that it was “financing the effort” of the agents’ suit.

NumbersUSA also emphasized on its site that Kris Kobach, the Republican Kansas secretary of state who worked on Arizona’s controversial immigration law and is an informal adviser to presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is representing the suing agents.

The suit cites Obama administration decisions to allow young people brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 who meet certain criteria to apply for a two-year relief period in which they couldn’t be deported.

The complaint also objects to the policy of “prosecutorial discretion,” in which ICE agents are supposed to focus their attention on dangerous criminals who are illegal immigrants. In a nutshell, the agents do not want to obey the new policies and do not want to face any disciplinary actions or lawsuits if they continue to arrest any type of immigrant who is in the United States illegally.

Undocumented immigrants line up for relief from deportation

“We are federal law enforcement officers who are being ordered to break the law. This directive puts ICE agents and officers in a horrible position,” Chris Crane, one of the agents filing suit and the president of the ICE agents and oficers union, said, according to a news release posted on the NumbersUSA said.

Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, responded, “DHS uses prosecutorial discretion to assist in focusing vigorously on the removal of individuals who are convicted criminals, repeat immigration law violators, and recent border-crossers.”

Chandler said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals decision is a temporary measure until Congress takes action on reforming immigration policies and that it “ensures that responsible young people, who are Americans in every way but on paper, have an opportunity to remain in the country and make their fullest contribution.”

The DHS spokesman also said that in fiscal year 2011 ICE removed 216,000 criminal illegal immigrants, a figure Chandler said is the largest in history and an 89% increase over the administration of President George W. Bush.

The Obama administration announced in June it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements. Under the new policy, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military can get a two-year deferral from deportation,

Supporters stress it does not grant immunity or a provide a shortcut to citizenship but affords undocumented immigrant children a chance to be productive workers – with a promise they won’t be deported for two years.

Opponents see the policy as granting backdoor amnesty to people who came to America illegally and tightening an already poor job market for young Americans.

As many as 1.7 million youths may qualify for the program, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

The deferred deportation policy includes some of the provisions of a Democratic proposal called the DREAM Act that failed to win enough Republican support to become law. In this year’s presidential election, Latino votes are critical in several battleground states, including Florida and Nevada.

On Thursday, several members of Congress came out in support of the ICE agents’ suit.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the administration’s policies are “having a very negative effect on our immigration law enforcement officers’ ability to secure America’s border and defend the rule of law.”

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“ICE agents should enforce our immigration laws and apprehend illegal immigrants,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

“But the Obama administration makes it impossible for ICE agents to do their jobs.”

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CNN’s Bill Mears contributed to this report.