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Administration rebrands controversial immigration post to skirt funding cut-off

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People march through the streets during a May Day demonstration in San Diego, California May 1, 2013.Reuters

The Obama administration is being accused of trying to pull a fast one on lawmakers by re-branding a controversial immigration job -- a "public advocate" for both legal and illegal immigrants -- after Congress explicitly voted to defund it.

The administration over the summer quietly changed the name of the position, first created in February 2012, from "public advocate" to deputy assistant director of "Custody Programs and Community Outreach." It was a change in name only. The administration kept the person in charge and the job description the same. 

By doing so, the White House has been able to keep the post off the congressional chopping block – a move Judicial Watch called “sneaky” in a recent report. 

“It’s simply part of the president’s well-established pattern of abusing his authority to blow off Congress, especially when it comes to immigration,” the conservative government watchdog group said.

Andrew Lorenzen-Strait was appointed by Obama as the new public advocate for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February 2012.  

The position was created to serve almost like an ombudsman, to help both legal immigrants and illegal immigrants facing removal proceedings. At the time, Obama had come under fire from his base for backpedaling on a campaign promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform. He responded by naming Lorenzen-Strait to the position.

That didn’t sit well with lawmakers like Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who said the new position wasted taxpayer money by using it to advocate for people breaking the law.

In 2012, Black proposed a House measure to defund the job she called “an ill-conceived lobbyist position.”

“Using taxpayer dollars to fund a position whose primary purpose is to advocate on behalf of individuals who have broken our laws and entered our country illegally is ridiculous and certainly a waste of precious taxpayers’ money,” Black told FoxNews.com. “This is why language was inserted into the Continuing Resolution that was passed through the House and the Senate and signed into law last March that defunds the Public Advocate position.”

The provision, which is part of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013, reads: “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to provide funding for the position of Public Advocate within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Black said the administration is "setting a dangerous precedent by breaking the very law he signed, and this kind of abuse of power will only undermine his agenda by destroying his credibility with Congress and the American people." 

Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, the union which represents 7,600 ICE officers and agents, has called the public advocate position “nothing but waste, fraud and abuse.” 

Others, like Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, disagree.

“The only hope for recourse when enforcement goes bad is to call on the ICE Public Advocate, which seems to me like an essential tool in holding ICE accountable to the public,” Gutierrez told The Washington Times.

ICE defended Lorenzen-Strait’s position and told FoxNews.com that “community outreach remains a necessary function at ICE in order to explain the agency’s mission and to be responsive to the needs of the public.”

ICE also credited him as “a career civil servant who serves as Deputy Assistant Director of Custody Programs and Community Outreach, has helped lead the agency’s public engagement and detention reform portfolio since being hired by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2008 during the previous Administration.”

Lorenzen-Strait began working for ICE in 2008. Prior to his government job, he worked as a lawyer in Maryland where he received awards for his pro bono work in Prince George’s County.

Calls from FoxNews.com to several immigration advocacy groups were not returned.  The National Immigration Forum told FoxNews.com it was too busy working on immigration policy issues to comment.