Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Blog

By Jad Ireifej
Summer Intern, 2014

Rep. Jeff Denham’s (CA-10) ENLIST Act was effectively blocked as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week when  Eric Cantor said it would not be included in this must-pass defense budget bill. The ENLIST Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before the age of 15, so-called “DREAMers,” and served honorably in the military, was considered an inappropriate addition to the Defense budget by the House Majority Leader. As the Obama Administration hopes to pass comprehensive immigration reform before the end of the year, the House GOP leadership’s reluctance to bring immigration to the floor and their unwillingness to pass individual reforms like this bill, threatens this prospect.

Speaker John Boehner said last Tuesday that there have been discussions on a standalone vote on the ENLIST Act, but that tying this act to the NDAA was the “inappropriate place to do it.” Denham believes that there is wide bi-partisan support for the measure and that he had the votes for it last year and only pulled it in hope that it would be included in broader immigration reform. The measure, which was believed to be among the least controversial immigration reforms, has run into strong conservative opposition. Supporters of the amendment believe that immigrants putting who put their life on the line for the United States, legal resident or not, should reasonably be rewarded with a pathway to citizenship. On the other hand, tea party hardliner Rep. Steve King (IA- 4), believes that such illegal immigrants should instead be sent on a “bus to Tijuana.” 

The conservative criticism of the measure has been based on doubts over the loyalty of DREAMers to the United States and the belief that the measure amounts to amnesty. Opponents like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) finds it “unthinkable” that amnesty would be provide to DREAMers to join the military while the military itself is downsizing by a reported 30,000 troops being removed from active duty. This has lead Rep. John Fleming (LA-4) to file a counter amendment to Denham’s that would bar the military from enlisting undocumented immigrants during a reduction of forces. Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) held a hearing in Chicago supporting the ENLIST Act and spoke about the immigrants he served with in the military. He pointed out that as the military is struggling to find suitable recruits, DREAMers who wish to serve in the military are vital to maintaining strength and diversity. 

The fears of conservatives speak to how out of touch the far-right is with the majority on the immigration issue. This has lead Rep. Luis Gutiérrez to agree with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue that if Republicans fail to pass immigration reform this year, it could be the end of the party. It is yet to be seen if Republicans will bring any of the immigration measures to the floor, the Obama Administration and the Pentagon are considering taking administrative action that can circumvent Congress and accept undocumented immigrants into the military. 

This issue and the controversy around it speaks to the necessity of immigration reform. While some Conservatives generally believe that the issue can be solved by securing the border and adhering strictly to current deportation laws, this current policy fails to address the complexity of the issue and is ultimately impractical. Immigration reform must address the position of DREAMers, provide them reasonable pathways to citizenship, and must prevent the fractioning of families who have documented and undocumented members. The ENLIST Act is one measure that works towards this goal, but more comprehensive and practical reform is still needed.     

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