Durbin backs delay to DOD immigration rule

Greg Nash

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday said he supports the White House’s move to delay plans for allowing more illegal immigrants to serve in the military.

The Obama administration reportedly asked the Pentagon to hold off on their ruling to give time and incentive for House Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

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“I want to stand by the White House,” said Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. “Let’s give the Speaker [John Boehner (R-Ohio)] the opportunity to do the right thing and finally call this bill.”

Durbin said House GOP leaders have until the end of July to act on immigration or “the president will have to exercise other options.”

The Defense Department’s plans would allow immigrants who came to the country illegally as children but have work permits and are not threatened with deportation to serve if they qualify for the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program.

The initiative currently lets in a certain number of non-citizens with specific language and medical skills to join the military and gain a path to citizenship. Pentagon officials in recent weeks had said they hoped to widen the program, allowing more young illegal immigrants to sign up.

The White House, though, asked the DOD to stop the expansion effort in the hopes that Republicans will act on immigration.

Even with the delay, Durbin said he wanted the Pentagon program to be broader, calling the proposal “inadequate.”

“MAVNI is not a large enough program to absorb all of the talent” offered by illegal immigrants, Durbin told reporters.

“It’s a start but it’s a very modest start,” he said. “I would like to see a much grander approach.”

Last month, Durbin suggested he might add an amendment to the Senate’s version of the 2015 defense authorization bill that would grant legal status to young illegal immigrants who serve honorably in the military.

Durbin told reporters he would hold his fire on attaching the measure, commonly known as the ENLIST Act, to the defense policy bill “so that there isn’t an excuse from these House Republicans of going our own way.”

However, he noted, “there’s an appropriations bill, too.”

Durbin, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said the panel would try to take up its spending bill around the first week of July.