Military enlistment by undocumented immigrants would be allowed, under legislation being pushed by Rep. Jeff Denham.
The California Republican actually introduced the bill more than a year ago. He's now looking to add it onto another piece of legislation, the must-pass 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.
The bill would provide a way for undocumented immigrants to become Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) to the U.S. through their honorable service and sacrifice by serving in the U.S. military. The Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training (ENLIST) Act would give an opportunity for qualified undocumented immigrants to serve the nation they seek to become citizens in, Denham said in a statement.
"As someone who enlisted and served this country during a time of war, I remember the pride I felt to wear the uniform and cannot think of any better way for these young people, who put their life on the line, to earn the right to fully share in the freedoms of America," Denham said. "I believe that anyone who swears an oath to defend our nation, and serves out an enlistment term honorably, should be entitled to the privileges afforded to Americans."
Has Chance Of Passing
Roll Call reports that Denham is aggressively seeking support for the legislation, which would allow illegal immigrants brought to the country as children to gain permanent residence in the United States in exchange for military service. He's already found dozens of co-sponsors.
But it's not so simple, according to Roll Call.
Ultimately the bill's fate depends on GOP leadership. If the ENLIST Act makes it into the defense authorization bill in committee, it could sink the whole measure on the floor. A conservative faction of the House Republican Conference is unwilling to support any legislative effort to rewrite the nation's immigration laws, particularly those that deal with the legal status issue.
And some conservative pundits aren't happy with the idea. In Commentary, Michael Rubin writes:
It creates a precedent by which the U.S. military welcomes lawbreakers. Illegal aliens may find their plight unfair and unjust, but they do know their actions violate U.S. law. Just as the military has upheld physical standards in its recruitment, it has also weeded out those who knowingly do not abide by the law.
Denham brings serious military chops to the debate. The now-Central Valley congressman served in the Air Force from 1984-89, then the Air Force Reserves from 1989-2000 - " including service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Denham then served in the California state Senate for eight years. His congressional district is 40 percent Hispanic. As a result he's been one of the few House Republicans to support Democratic immigration legislation that would include some sort of path to citizenship.
Denham faces a potentially strong Democratic challenge in 2014. His district, which covers a heavily agricultural area of California's central valley, is competitive. Sonia, his wife of 20 years, is Hispanic. Denham said he learned Spanish to communicate with her family, including to help his Mexican father-in-law through the process of gaining U.S. citizenship.