Defense bill amendment sets up immigration fight

An annual defense policy bill is once again becoming embroiled in the debate over immigration.

Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarWashington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally Police brace for Capitol rally defending Jan. 6 mob Watchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments MORE (R-Ariz.) filed an amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would strip out and replace language affirming the Defense secretary's ability to enlist anyone who is determined to be "vital to the national interest."

That would leave the door open to enlisting illegal immigrants if the person in question has an employment authorization issued under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.


The language was added to the bill as an amendment during the House Armed Services Committee’s markup last month.

It was a substitute amendment offered by committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) after Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) introduced an amendment that would have directed the Defense secretary to establish a process under which people with legal status under President Obama's executive actions on immigratino could be enlisted.

Those people include children who came to or stayed in the United States illegally.


Thornberry’s amendment was adopted by the committee with a voice vote.

In place of that amendment, Gosar would put an amendment that says the Defense secretary can only enlist immigrants who are in the country legally as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act.


That means those who fall under under Obama's executive orders would be excluded.

In a written statement, Gosar called the existing language “backdoor amnesty.”

“NDAA should be about providing critical funding for our troops, not debating immigration policy,” Gosar said. “Sadly, open border advocates have once again put politics ahead of the needs of our men and women in uniform in attempting to enact President Obama’s lawless agenda.”

In his own written statement, Gallego stressed that the language was a compromise offered by a Republican.

“This shouldn’t be a controversial issue,” he said. “This amendment is about defense and what is in the best interest of our nation and our military. I fought in Iraq, and I know that on the battlefield what matters is the character and commitment of the people you serve with, not their immigration status.”

A similar debate played out during the House debate on the NDAA last year.

The House ultimately voted to strip out a provision that would have established a sense of the House that the Pentagon should review allowing those affected by Obama's orders to enlist.

This year’s bill is expected to come to the House floor next week.