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Carol Cratty CNN
Published: 24 August 2012

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A group of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents filed suit Thursday against new policy directives on removing illegal immigrants.

The plaintiffs say obeying new administration priorities on what types of illegal immigrants should get priority for deportation could place agents in violation of federal law.

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

The suit cites recent policy 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 -- one of whom is the president of the ICE Agents and Officers Union -- 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.

"Federal regulations do not authorize the Secretary to grant deferred action wholesale to a large number of illegal aliens," the suit said in reference to Napolitano's directive on deferred removal for young people

The 10 agents who brought the suit are asking for immediate and urgent relief. "They are being ordered to violate federal law and are facing discipline or adverse employment action if they follow federal law," according to the court document.

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.

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."

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

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

One of the lawyers representing the 10 ICE agents is Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. He also worked on Arizona's controversial immigration law and is an informal adviser to presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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