Republicans have stepped up their criticism of an Obama administration policy to defer enforcement of select immigration violations.
The move by Congressional Republicans comes at the same time as a lawsuit filed by nine Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers against the Obama administration's deferred action policy for some immigration violations.
President Barack Obama's plan to not seek to deport illegal immigrants who would have be eligible for the DREAM Act, if it were ever to become law, has drawn accolades from Democrats and Hispanic groups but has been panned by Republicans, who say the administration is undermining immigration enforcement.
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said that easing immigration enforcement in a weak economy hinders the ability of American citizens and legal immigrants to find jobs.
"The Obama administration's amnesty program not only rewards lawbreakers, it also forces ICE agents to violate federal law. ICE agents should enforce our immigration laws and apprehend illegal immigrants," Smith said in a statement. "But the Obama administration makes it impossible for ICE agents to do their jobs."'
Chris Crane, the president of the National ICE Council, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed today in federal district court in Dallas, Texas.
The council is the American Federation of Government Employees union that represents agents and other employees of ICE. The plaintiffs are represented by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an adviser to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and an immigration hard-liner and architect of the GOP platform committee's enforcement-heavy immigration plank.
The lawsuit contends that the administration's directive "unconstitutionally usurps and encroaches upon the legislative powers of Congress."
Crane appeared last month at a news conference with several GOP Senators critical of the Obama administration policy, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.).
"America was poised to make great progress on immigration enforcement - after Congress was forced into action by the American public - but the president's unilateral pursuit of far-reaching amnesty has not only undermined this progress but reversed it," Sessions said in a statement. "The men and women who swore an oath to uphold the law and protect the public safety are now forced to ignore the law if they are to remain secure in their jobs."
Several other Republicans also chimed in with statements of support today, including Sens. John Boozman (Ark.) and David Vitter (La.)
"We must hold those who are breaking the law accountable and allow law enforcement the ability to do their job. Instead, this is a back door path to amnesty. We are a nation of laws but the president is stepping beyond his authority by determining what laws must be enforced," Boozman said. "Americans deserve immigration reform, secure borders and improved workplace verification to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal workers."
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security devised the deferred action policy when it was abundantly clear that Congress would not act on the DREAM Act this year.
That legislation, championed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the country as children, provided they attend college or join the military. Durbin first introduced the DREAM Act more than 11 years ago, a point which he highlights during his regular appearances on the Senate floor.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had planned to unveil a Republican alternative version of the DREAM Act, but he said that became unnecessary when the Obama administration took the unilateral action to focus enforcement resources on dangerous immigrants.
The administration plan has the backing of Hispanic groups, which are a key constituency in Obama's re-election bid and Democratic efforts to hold on to control of the Senate.
Democrats highlighted the plan last week when a process began to allow eligible individuals to apply for work permits after paying a $465 fee.
"This is a historic humanitarian moment and I personally salute the president for his leadership. This action will give these young immigrants their chance to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they've ever called home," Durbin said last week.
Durbin told a group of people applying for the new work permits in Chicago that he expected the Obama administration's move would eventually lead to support for a DREAM Act law.