CAPITOL HILL - The U.S. House of Representatives has moved to block the Pentagon from allowing young immigrants who are in the United States illegally — but have been given temporary legal status under a program started by President Barack Obama — to enlist in the military.
The measure was passed Friday as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, approving $612 billion for defense programs in 2016.
The Republican sponsor of the amendment, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, cited cuts in defense spending in recent years, saying Congress should vote “to stop military service opportunities from being taken away from struggling American families.”
He added, “There is no military recruitment and retention deficit that justifies supplanting Americans and lawful immigrants with illegal aliens.”
The amendment passed in the Republican-led House by a vote of 221-202. Most Democrats and some Republican lawmakers voted against it, saying anyone willing to fight and die for the United States should be given the chance to do so.
Young undocumented immigrants often are called "Dreamers," in reference to a failed 2001 immigration reform bill known as the DREAM act. They have been seeking a way to serve in the military.
Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona said, “These young people are Americans in every respect, except on paper. I have fought in Iraq, and I know that what really matters on the battlefield is not whether you have the right papers. It is whether you have the heart to fight, patriotism for your country, and the right character.”
The Brooks amendment passed late Thursday removed language that would have allowed the Pentagon to consider enlisting people who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
More than 700,000 undocumented young immigrants have benefited from a 2012 executive order by President Obama. They have received renewable two year reprieves from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States.
Defense spending bill
The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2013, but the House has passed only individual bills viewed by pro-immigration-reform groups as hostile to immigrants.
During the 2012 presidential elections, Republicans lost Hispanic and other minority voters by a wide margin, and party leaders vowed to do a better job of reaching out to them.
Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said if Republicans keep passing measures like the one barring consideration for military service, Democrats might as well “start measuring the drapes” (preparing to move in) in the White House for 2016.
The defense spending bill passed by the House maintains the current ban against transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States. It also prohibits funding to build facilities to house those detainees on U.S. soil.
Congress has made it difficult for Obama to keep his promise of closing down Guantanamo before he leaves office in 2017.