Immigration Officials Sue Obama Administration Over Work Permit Directive

The lawsuit wants to stop the White House from implementing its new plan to allow young immigrants to obtain work permits

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's latest immigration fight pits his clients, ten Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, up against President Barack Obama's latest directive to stop the deportation of immigrants who came to the country as children.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in Texas, ICE officials accuse Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and John Morton, the Director of ICE, of asking officers to "violate federal law."

"Both the Directive and memorandum command our agents to violate federal law and our oaths to uphold federal law," says Chris Crane, the president of the National ICE Council. "We are federal law enforcement officers who are being ordered to break the law."

Ultimately, the ICE officials want to stop the directive or ensure they aren't punished for disobeying DHS's directions.

The lawsuit is being funded by Numbers USA, a group that lobbies for fewer immigrants to be allowed to enter the country. [Opinion: Obama Has Right to Bypass Congress on Immigration.]

Under the White House's new immigration strategy, approximately 800,000 children who came into the United States before the age of 16 and have been in the country for five years without committing a felony could have the opportunity to earn temporary work permits. Kobach, who says he is an informal advisor to the Romney campaign and author of SB 1090, Arizona's controversial immigration law, is the head attorney in the lawsuit.

"In Fast and Furious you had an agency looking the other way when the law was being broken," says Kobach. "[Now] they are ordering agents themselves to break the law, which makes this worse than Fast and Furious."

The majority of the lawsuit's plaintiffs are from Texas. Congressmen throughout the state issued statements of support for Kobach and the ICE agents Thursday.

"It's a sad day when ICE employees have to sue their own employer over injustices and violation of laws within the Department of Homeland Security," says Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert. "I support this effort to reintroduce the Obama administration to the Constitution and the fact that when Congress passes a law and the President signs it." [See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Texas Republicans also worry the Obama administration's the new immigration policy will put in-state jobs at risk of being taken by illegal immigrants.

"This policy no only hurts ICE agents, but also unemployed American workers who have to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs," says Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "The Obama administration regularly puts illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American workers."

Napolitano disagrees and says the directive is a way to prioritize resources, not an effort to obstruct Congress.

"These policies promote the efficient use of our resources, ensuring that we do not divert them away from the removal of convicted criminals," Napolitano said in a Judiciary Committee hearing.

Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, says this lawsuit represents a small faction of conservatives who opposed Obama's directive, but doesn't represent a larger movement.

"There is a small, very vocal group of Americans that are very concerned about immigration, but I don't see them gaining the same popular traction on this issue as they have gotten in the past."

After the president's announcement, many Republicans expressed frustration with how the president pursued the immigration policy, but few rejected it on its merits. [See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

"This lawsuit represents a small number of people who feel backed into a corner," Jacoby says.

Update: 8/23/12, 6:02 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect a comment from Kris Kobach.