GOP House members: Strike immigration text from defense bill

Greg Nash

A group of 25 House Republicans is asking the powerful House Rules Committee to remove an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that could open the door to illegal immigrants serving in the military.

ADVERTISEMENT
The group — led by Rep. Mo BrooksMo BrooksGOP bill would block undocumenteds from military service GOP rep: Muslims want to 'kill every homosexual' in the US House GOP avoids debate over immigration in defense bill MORE (R-Ala.) — wants the panel's chairman, Pete Sessions (R-Texas), to strike a provision by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) that encourages the secretary of Defense to review allowing recipients of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to serve in the armed forces.

“This controversial immigration language greatly increases the risk of the [national defense authorization act’s] failure to pass the House. The Rules Committee has the power, and indeed the duty, to prevent such a threat to our national security,” the group wrote in a letter dated Tuesday to Sessions.

The House Armed Services Committee, of which Brooks is a member, approved its version of the defense policy blueprint in a marathon markup session last week. Gallego’s amendment was added to the massive $612 billion authorization bill in a 33-30 roll call vote, attracting six Republican supporters. 

In their letter, the GOP lawmakers note that the full House has voted three times to defund DACA and argue Gallego’s text is at odds with the chamber’s “previous position and is a severe threat to passage” of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“Especially in this time of increased terrorism, our national security should not be threatened by allowing such controversial language on a program we have rejected three times as unconstitutional,” the letter said.

A Brooks spokeswoman said the Alabama lawmaker plans to offer an amendment that would strip the language from the legislation when the authorization measure hits the House floor next week.

In a statement, Gallego skewered those who signed onto the letter, saying "there is no reason to strike it from NDAA other than to appease the fringe of the GOP."

“On the same day that a judge in Arizona ruled in favor of in-state tuition for 'Dreamers,' the extreme right of the Republican Party vowed to continue their attack against immigrant communities — including against talented, brave and patriotic 'Dreamers' who want to serve in our military and fight for our freedom and the values we hold dear," Gallego said.

He argued his proposal "shouldn't be a controversial issue. The Secretary of Defense has the authority to deem what is in the national interest of the United States, and all we are asking is for him to consider allowing DACA recipients who meet the criteria and want to serve, into our military for that same reason."

Tuesday's letter is another sign that the push to include immigration in the defense policy bill could be doomed.

On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainMcCain, Graham mock Kerry's threat to end talks with Russia Kerry threatens to end Syria talks with Russia Pentagon sending 615 more US troops to Iraq MORE (R-Ariz.) closed the door to including any such language in his draft of the legislation, which is expected to be unveiled next week.

"We're not doing anything on immigration on the NDAA," he told The Hill.

McCain said he would not risk including text in his version because the more right-leaning House could torpedo the measure, echoing the argument made in the letter to Sessions.

"It would not be accepted by the House. I've got to have a House agreement; they would never agree to putting that on the NDAA," he said. 

"If I put it on the defense bill, what happens in the House? The whole bill crashes. The defense bill is for defense, not for 'Dreamers,' ” according to McCain.

Gallego fired back at McCain on Wednesday, saying he should "stick to his job in the Senate and let the House do our job."

"This amendment is about defense and what is in the best interest of our nation and our military. From his own service, Senator McCain knows that thousands of Americans have served this country while working to attain citizenship. What matters is the quality and commitment of the people you serve with, not their immigration status," he said.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the most outspoken GOP opponents of illegal immigration, has vowed to offer his own amendment that would eliminate Gallego’s provision, as well as another immigration-related amendment, when the NDAA hits the House floor.

— This story was updated at 11:32 a.m.