House Republican pushes green cards for illegal immigrants in the military

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) on Friday plans to file an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would grant green cards to young illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

Denham dismissed concerns that his measure, dubbed the ENLIST Act, might disrupt passage of the defense authorization bill, noting he has 50 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“I know we have the votes to pass it,” he told The Hill in a phone interview. “We’re where we need to be for a floor vote.”

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Denham attempted to include the immigration measure in last year’s defense budget blueprint but withdrew it in deference to colleagues who did not want the politically divisive issue added to the must-pass legislation.

“I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt last year so that we could have a stand-alone bill,” he explained. “We have yet to get a hearing date on our stand-alone bill so I’m moving forward with the amendment.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has emphatically opposed incorporating any immigration language into the defense authorization bill.

It remains to be seen whether or not the House Rules Committee will allow Denham's amendment to debated as lawmakers consider the budget blueprint.

Denham said McKeon was aware he would introduce the amendment and pointed out that Senate Democrats are currently debating whether to include an immigration provision when they take up their version of the defense policy bill next week.

Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, this week urged its supporters to actively oppose Denham’s amendment.

Denham, an Air Force veteran, described the conservative group’s call to arms as an “interesting position to take” since America is a “nation of immigrants.”