Immigration Policy Won’t Make It Into the Defense Bill, for Now

House conservatives are blocking a plan to grant legal status to military “Dreamers.”

Lizardo Buleje of San Antonio, Texas, stands in front of the U.S. Capitol during a rally on immigration reform October 23, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
April 4, 2014, 10:26 a.m.

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.

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