The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Texas, adds a legal controversy to the political fight that has been brewing over President Obama’s immigration policies, which have steadily narrowed the range of immigrants whom the government is targeting for deportation.
The 10 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and deportation officers said Mr. Obama’s policies force them to choose between enforcing the law and being reprimanded by superiors, or listening to superiors and violating their own oaths of office and a 1996 law that requires them to put those who entered the country illegally into deportation proceedings.
Upping the ante, the agents are being represented by a high-profile lawyer, Kris W. Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas and the chief promoter of state immigration crackdowns such as Arizona’s tough law.
“ICE is at a point now where agents are being told to break federal law. They’re pretty much told that any illegal alien under the age of 31 is going to be let go. You can imagine, these law enforcement officers are being put in a horrible position,” Mr. Kobach said.
Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the department [of homeland security], said the administration thinks it is right to target deportation efforts on those with major criminal records or other priority categories. He also said more than 90 percent of those whom ICE deports meet those criteria.
“The secretary’s memo on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a continuation of the department’s focus on these priorities, and 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,” he said.
In their 22-page complaint, the agents say they have been told in broad terms to stop taking action on a whole class of illegal immigrants. They said they have been instructed not to bother asking for proof, either, but to take an immigrant’s word about qualifying for the president’s policy.
Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council and one of those suing to stop the policy, said morale is low among rank-and-file employees at the agency.
“They feel like they’ve become the enemy because, literally, we have this situation where individuals that have broken U.S. immigration law as well as oftentimes criminal law at the state or local level—they’re being released, no questions asked, but our own officers are being threatened with their careers being taken away if they go out and enforce the laws on the books,” said Mr. Crane, an ICE deportation officer.