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House panel rejects defense bill immigration amendments

29 Apr

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday held vigorous debate on undocumented immigrants’ enlistment in the military during its annual marathon markup of its 2017 defense authorization bill.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine veteran, introduced an amendment that would direct the Defense secretary to establish a process under which a service secretary could authorize the enlistment of an illegal immigrant — if he or she has an employment authorization issued under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Gallego said arguments that his amendment was “backdoor amnesty” were “nonsense.”

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) argued that the U.S. military should not be enlisting undocumented immigrants when some U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants serving in the military are getting “pink slips.”

“All recruitment and reenlistment needs are being met,” Brooks countered.

Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) proposed a substitute amendment that would reaffirm the Defense secretary’s ability to enlist anyone who is determined to be “vital to the national to the national interest,” which could include those who fall under the DACA program.

Several Democrats, including Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), voiced support for Thornberry’s substitute amendment, which was adopted by voice vote.

Debate also broke out over another Democratic amendment, by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), which would direct the Defense secretary to study whether those under DACA with employment authorization documents could impact diversity at military service academies and among ranking officers in the military.

Brooks also opposed that amendment, saying, “We need to focus on Americans who want to serve our country.”

“My focus is on the desire to turn away as few Americans as possible who want to serve in the United States military,” he said.

Gallego spoke in favor of the amendment, arguing it just called for a study.

“They are not taking the places of citizens,” Veasey said. “This is just a study.”

“Why shouldn’t we just allow the [Defense Department] to do a study to see if they can add to our nation’s security?” he asked.

Veasey’s amendment was defeated by voice vote.