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Lawmakers press Obama on concerns over new immigration agency chief

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Critics suspect the elevation of John Sandweg (r.) to acting director of ICE has more to do with his closeness to outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (l.) than his law enforcement credentials. (AP, C-Span)

Two key lawmakers have written President Obama to express "extreme concern" over his choice for acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, citing John Sandweg's "critically thin" experience in law enforcement.

The letter, signed by House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R- Texas, and Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who chairs the committee’s Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee, went out just days after FoxNews.com published an exclusive story exploring Sandweg's close ties to outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and his experience as a criminal defense attorney.

“A litany of concerning allegations has been raised against Mr. Sandweg,” reads the letter. “Perhaps the most concerning is the clear political partisanship displayed throughout his career.”

The letter notes that Sandweg, 38, now heads the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, and oversees 20,000 employees and an annual budget of almost $6 billion despite a "gaping lack of experience."

"Despite extensive political experience, Mr. Sandweg's qualifications are critically thin in one area: experience in law enforcement," reads the letter.

“Such a critical agency to our homeland security demands a leader with proven experience, significant managerial acumen, and tested judgment,” the congressmen wrote. “We fear your choice may possess none of these crucial qualities.”

In an Aug. 14 story, FoxNews.com reported that Sandweg represented sex offenders and murderers while in private practice in Arizona, where he also served as a fundraiser for Napolitano, while she was governor. In their letter to President Obama, the lawmakers cite much of FoxNews.com’s reporting.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Sandweg’s supporters include David Aguilar, who recently retired as deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“I think he’s extremely qualified to serve as the acting director of ICE and that’s in my opinion, that’s the opinion of a 35-year cop,” said Aguilar, who worked with Sandweg on issues specific to immigration and the border.

But McCaul and Duncan noted Sandweg’s recent participation in the National Immigration Law Center’s National Low-Income Immigrant Right’s Conference, which included workshops on “anti-deportation education and organizing.”

“These facts suggest he may not implement ICE’s mission in a non-partisan manner,” the lawmakers wrote.

A DHS official cited Sandweg’s work as general counsel for the department as providing experience for his current post. Sandweg helped craft border security and immigration enforcement strategies, helped remove more than 950,000 convicted criminal aliens since 2009, worked with the Pentagon to deploy the National Guard to the Southwest Border, the official said. 

Email Jana Winter at jana.winter@foxnews.com