Ten Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on Thursday sued their boss, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, saying her program granting deportation clemency to young illegal immigrants forces them to violate federal law.

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Ten immigration officers are suing their boss, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, saying that by preventing them from deporting young illegal immigrants under a new program rolled out last week, she’s forcing them to violate federal law.

The 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from across the country (none from the Northwest region) filed the suit Thursday in federal court in Dallas, a week after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began accepting applications from young people who qualify for deportation reprieve.

On a telephone news conference Thursday, Chris Crane, president of the ICE Agents and Officers Union and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said that by looking the other way in cases involving young illegal immigrants, officers are prohibited from carrying out their duties lawfully.

He related an incident in which one officer in Delaware is facing a three-day suspension from his job for processing for deportation a young illegal immigrant with substantial traffic violations.

“We have officers who are under threat of losing their jobs and retirement if they attempt to enforce laws on the books,” Crane said. “We have no option here at all but to litigate … to take care of our officers.”

Good for two years, the deferred-action program could extend to as many as 1.76 million illegal immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children. An estimated 30,000 of them are in Washington state.

To qualify for the program, they must either be enrolled in school or have graduated, and not have a felony record or pose a security or public-safety threat. Those who show a need will also be eligible for work permits.

From the start, Republicans have criticized the program, calling it de facto amnesty and a political move on the part of the Obama administration to win the Latino vote.

The ICE plaintiffs say their concerns aren’t just about the new deferred-action program for young people but about broader tendencies by the administration to disregard those in the country unlawfully.

Advocates who are helping illegal immigrants here complete application forms say it’s the lawsuit by the ICE agents that is politically motivated.

“It’s a ridiculous legal claim on which to challenge their boss because she’s not as rigid in enforcement policies as they would like,” said Matt Adams, legal director with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which has brought on two part-time attorneys to work on deferred-action cases.

Matt Chandler, DHS spokesman, reiterated the department’s aim of focusing its deportation efforts on “convicted criminals, repeat immigration-law violators, and recent border crossers.”

The deferred-action program, he pointed out, continues those priorities, ensuring “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.”

But he pointed out that the policy is a temporary measure. “Congress must still act to provide a permanent solution to fix the broken immigration system.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.