A push by some Republicans to include language in a must-pass defense bill to grant legal status to "Dreamers" in the military has hit a snag amid vocal opposition from a subset of House conservatives.
The proposal, stemming from a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of California, will not be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon announced Friday. McKeon is a cosponsor of the Denham bill.
"I have reached this conclusion without regard to my views on the underlying policy, but because I do not believe that the Chairman's mark should be the original venue for this debate," McKeon said in a statement. "Over the past several days I have heard from members on and off the committee on both sides of this issue. They have made sound arguments and raised valid concerns.... This is an important issue that I know will continue to be debated going forward."
Consideration of including the immigration-related provision in the NDAA bill, which would prevent members from voting on it as a stand-alone bill, was first reported by Breitbart News. It would allow immigrants brought here illegally when they were 15 or younger and who then went on to serve in the military to qualify for permanent residency. The possibility of including it in the NDAA bill inspired a backlash from immigration hard-liners, such as Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who is circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter about it.
Brooks said including it in the defense bill "may stop the passage of the NDAA by bringing in an extracurricular issue that is wholly unrelated to national security."
On the bill itself, Brooks said "it ensures illegal aliens will be put on the same footing with American citizens who are competing for enlistment privileges in our national defense."
But the provision isn't dead yet. A House Armed Services Committee member can still introduce it in committee. (Denham isn't a member.) And if that doesn't happen, Denham has said he will introduce it in the House Rules Committee as an amendment to NDAA.
"It's very frustrating to see controversy on an issue from members who have never served our country and don't understand the impacts that immigrants have had on securing our freedoms and securing our national freedom," Denham said.
When asked about that criticism, Brooks responded, "That's bunk. Next question."
This issue came up last year, but Denham withdrew consideration of the bill on the floor as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte raised objections that his committee had jurisdiction over such issues. Denham won't be doing the same thing again, he said.
"I was confident last year that I had the votes on my amendment, and I was willing to work with my conference on the issue," Denham said. "I'm confident that my bill, as a stand-alone bill, will have overwhelming support of both conferences."
The bill currently has 42 cosponsors: 18 Democrats and 24 Republicans.