Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) on Monday defended his proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to serve in the military as part of of the 2015 defense authorization.
Denham, who represents a district with a high Hispanic population, said that the House should consider his amendment to the national defense authorization, since GOP leadership had still not scheduled votes on an immigration overhaul.
Denham said his amendment, which would allow undocumented immigrants to serve in the military in exchange for a green card, should not be controversial. Conservative groups including Heritage Action pledged to urge members to vote against such a proposal, threatening to negatively rate the entire defense authorization if Denham's amendment was included.
"Serving one's nation, putting your life on the line for the only country you know should be an act of patriotism," Denham said.
House GOP leadership said last week that Denham's amendment would not be made in order, meaning that it will not be granted debate or a vote on the House floor.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has been criticized by his primary opponent for his stance on immigration policy. Moreover, many conservative Republicans have pressured the leadership not to compromise on any immigration reform legislation.
But Denham said the decision was surprising since a similar amendment he offered to the 2014 defense authorization last year was made in order. The California Republican later withdrew the amendment when it came up on the floor in deference to colleagues who urged debating it outside of the annual defense authorization.
Denham said that the GOP leadership explained its rationale to not allow the amendment this time around by telling him that immigration bills should be considered separately. But Denham charged that other policy riders should then be purged from the defense authorization.
"The point has been made many times that immigration should be done on its own. My point back to them would be, then pull out the other three bills that deal with border security, amnesty for Afghanistan, as well as the Iraqi positions, that have been put in the previous bills," Denham said.
Denham said he would have pushed his amendment last year had he known it would not be allowed a vote this time.
"Had I anticipated it, I would have forced a vote last year," Denham said. "I'm confident we have the votes now."
Denham said that the window was closing to act on immigration.
"There's nothing that would lead me to believe that if we can't get it done in regular order this year, that anything substantial would happen after the midterms," Denham said.
The California Republican said he will appear before the House Rules Committee on Tuesday to advocate for his proposal.