GOP lawmaker defies his leaders on immigration


Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamBottom line Bottom line Business groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government MORE (R-Calif.) on Monday defied House leadership by filing an amendment to the fiscal 2015 defense spending bill that would give green cards to young illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

“It’s a change to military code, not immigration law,” Denham, who co-sponsored the measure with Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), said in a statement, defending his decision.


Republican leaders, though, have vowed to block Denham’s measure. On Friday, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he would not allow any vote on the legislation, commonly known as the ENLIST Act, when the chamber takes up its version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday.

Cantor is embroiled in a primary fight with Dave Brat, who has badgered the majority leader on immigration issues. GOP leadership, though, has come under intense pressure by rank and file members not to move any immigration reform measures this year.

Denham, who is expected to win reelection, represents a district that is 40 percent Hispanic.

Momentum on the issue has begun to build in the Senate, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) holding a hearing on Monday in Chicago to examine allowing illegal immigrants to serve in the military. Democrats are weighing whether to allow an amendment to the upper chamber’s version of the defense bill.

Denham also filed two additional amendments. The first identifies three other immigration-related provisions in the defense budget blueprint and strikes each from the bill.

“If we want to include immigration in NDAA, then we should also consider the ENLIST Act,” Denham, an Air Force veteran, said.

The third requires a report from the Defense secretary on the number of illegal immigrants who have enlisted in the military and gone on to gain citizenship since the year 2000.

The House Rules Committee will consider all proposed amendments to the authorization bill on Tuesday. Denham attempted to include the immigration measure in last year’s defense policy bill but withdrew it after colleagues argued it could sink the must-pass legislation.