No immigration changes in Senate defense bill

The Senate’s $514 billion defense policy bill unveiled late Thursday does not include language that would grant legal status to young illegal immigrants who serve honorably in the U.S. military.

The measure, commonly known as the ENLIST Act, was not written into the 2015 defense authorization legislation because “we got word that it would be counterproductive to attempt to do it in this bill,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinPresident Trump, listen to candidate Trump and keep Volcker Rule Republicans can learn from John McCain’s heroism Trump and GOP wise to keep tax reform and infrastructure separate MORE told The Hill. 

“It was not the best place to do it,” he said after a press conference rolling out the Pentagon budget blueprint. 

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Debate over the immigration measure has ratcheted up in recent weeks, as Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) tried, unsuccessfully, to attach it to the House version of the defense bill over the objections of GOP leaders. Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGun proposal picks up GOP support Durbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration MORE (D-Ill.) has said he might offer an amendment on the issue to the Senate’s version.

Levin, who favors the measure, said another complication arose among ENLIST supporters over whether it would provide green cards to those who serve or a path to citizenship.

“That would have become a issue which could have set the effort backwards instead of forwards,” he said. “There was no consensus, as I was told, among the groups that favor this.”

Levin added that he did not know if the measure would be offered as an amendment when the authorization bill reaches the Senate floor, calling Durbin the “point person” on the issue. 

“If it makes sense to give it a go at that time, hey, we’ll give it a go, but we don’t want to set back that cause by having a debate over citizenship and losing that debate,” he told The Hill.