House Republicans are quietly working to insert immigration legislation into the text of the Department of Defense authorization bill that would allow so-called DREAMers to obtain permanent legal residency by joining the military, Breitbart News has learned.
The language, which if successful would mark the first effort by House Republicans to provide any form of amnesty since the GOP took control of the House in 2010, has set off a panic among top immigration hawks that the effort could open an immigration Pandora’s box, paving the way for broader legislation.
Sophomore Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of California, a close ally of GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy, is leading the push to add the text of his “ENLIST Act” into the National Defense Authorization Act, which could come to the House floor as early as next month.
The effort, which has not previously been reported, is fairly advanced, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte – who killed the proposal as an amendment to last year's NDAA in a dramatic floor struggle – is weighing whether to approve the maneuver, which would circumvent his committee on one of its key matters of jurisdiction.
“We're working on it,” Goodlatte said.
Meanwhile, top immigration hawks ripped the proposal as ill-conceived and a clear effort to build momentum for a comprehensive immigration bill.
“If we're going to put out the bait, which is: come into the U.S., break in, so to speak, smuggle yourself into the military, put on the uniform of the United States, take an oath to uphold our Constitution, which may or may not mean anything to them, and now we're going to reward you with citizenship -- I think it's just a bizarre thing to do, to reward people for breaking our laws. That's what amnesty is,” said Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King.
“As soon as they raise their hand and say 'I'm unlawfully present in the United States,' we're not going take your oath into the military, but we're going to take your deposition and we have a bus for you to Tijuana. That's the law. Are they going to then suspend the law that requires ICE to place people into removal proceedings that are unlawfully present?” he added.
Key proponents of a comprehensive immigration bill said they support Denham's effort but that it's not part of a broader push for amnesty.
“Remember, to get the big things done, we still have to deal with the 800 lb gorilla, which is border security, and the folks that are here. That fact remains. I think that part that he's dealing with is a very important part but it's relatively noncontroversial,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told Breitbart News.
At the same time, though, GOP proponents of Gang of Eight-style legislation have recently begun to worry that the window for enacting immigration bills is rapidly closing, causing them to ramp up their behind-the-scenes efforts.
The reason: a growing certainty that President Obama is planning to enact amnesty by executive fiat, blowing up the chances of legislation for the rest of his presidency.
“It's going to happen. He's getting a lot of pressure, and he's already told some people he's going to. He's told a bunch of people. I think he will. I think he has to,” said one senior member of Congress who asked that his name not be used.
“I'm hearing that he will do it by August. When that happens, it's poof! The right will go off the rails, just because it's unconstitutional -- and they'll be right about that stuff. They'll fly off the rails, which will then get the Democrats [to close ranks]. And then it's a presidential election. That's coming, and as soon as that happens, it's over,” the lawmaker said.
Denham, who was the first Republican to co-sponsor a Democratic immigration bill modeled after the Senate Gang-of-Eight legislation that passed last year, is pushing to add the language to the “base” NDAA bill – meaning it would not get its own vote.
A House Armed Services Committee aide said Chairman Buck McKeon hadn't committed to including the language in the bill, which runs through his committee. McKeon, on his way to the House floor to vote, declined to comment.
But Denham has acquired significant support, including from a number of top conservatives that could help insulate him from the inevitable blow-up when the effort becomes public.
For example, a trio of South Carolina lawmakers, Reps. Jeff Duncan, Mick Mulvaney, and Trey Gowdy – the latter of whom is the chairman of the immigration subcommittee in Goodlatte's Judiciary panel – have cosponsored the bill, as has McKeon.
Overall, the stand-alone bill has 42 cosponsors, including 24 Republicans. Also on the list: key chairman like Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of House Veterans Affairs Committee and Darrell Issa, chairman of the oversight panel. Two close allies of Speaker John Boehner, Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Steve Stivers (R-OH) are cosponsors, as is McCarthy.
The bill says illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. since 2011 and came to the U.S. before they were 15 years old could enlist in the military, upon which he would receive permanent legal status.
The alien's status would be revoked if he was discharged from the military on anything but “honerable” terms.
Legal permanent residents can apply for citizenship after residing in the U.S. for five years, or three if they are married to a U.S. Citizen.
“I support allowing children who were brought to this country through no fault of their own to put their lives on the line to serve our nation,” Denham said in an emailed statement to Breitbart News. “As a veteran, I served with immigrants and there is no better way to show your dedication to the United States and earn legal status than through the ultimate act of patriotism and commitment to our great country.”
During the 2013 House floor battle of the NDAA, Denham, with the backing of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, nearly succeeded in bringing the proposal to a vote as an amendment, which had cleared the House Rules Committee.
But at the last minute on the House floor, Goodlatte asserted his jurisdictional prerogative, killing the amendment.
Denham has worked to garner Goodlatte's support this time around, but whether the Virginia Republican backs his play or not, it is likely to run into a buzzsaw of opposition from amnesty hawks on the lookout for anything that could resurrect a comprehensive bill.
“Amnesty for those illegally here should not be tucked away and hidden within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA),” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said in an emailed statement. “When someone goes into the military they take an oath to protect and defend the United States of America. How can you raise your right hand and promise to defend the U.S. Constitution, while you are breaking the very laws you are sworn to defend?”
Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the provision would jeopardize his support of the overall bill, which is one of the last “consensus” bills that typically garners a large bipartisan majority of support every year.
“How do you ensure that illegal aliens are loyal to America and not another country? Is it wise to entrust illegal aliens with questionable loyalties with America’s military secrets and weapons, including weapons of mass destruction? Is it enough that illegal aliens join America’s military, or should they be required to be honorably discharged or serve in combat before receiving amnesty for past illegal conduct? If I don’t have satisfactory answers to these and other questions, I will not support the National Defense Authorization Act that provides amnesty for illegal aliens,” Brooks said in a phone interview.
Brooks added that this could be a part of a bigger play by the amnesty activist community to either revive the Senate-passed “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, the similar “principles” from Speaker John Boehner, or something else like either of those.
“Everything by the illegal alien allies is part of a bigger play,” Brooks said, adding “There is always the risk that those in Washington that wish to betray the American people on behalf of illegal aliens will slip some language into some place that opens the floodgates to the detriment of American workers.”
Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, added in an email to Breitbart News that this could be a “Trojan Horse” for a larger amnesty.
“Harry Reid hasn’t even sent the Gang of Eight bill to the House, because he knows it would be struck down on procedural grounds alone – it raises revenue and only bills that start in the House can do that,” Krikorian said in an email. “By including an amnesty provision – however small – in the defense bill, the House leadership would create the opportunity for Reid to insert the Senate bill and send it to the House. It would become a Trojan Horse for amnesty.”
King, who came to learn of the secretive effort in an interview, said he will offer an amendment to the NDAA bill to strip it of the immigration provisions and work diligently to kill the proposal.
“I can't let something like this happen. I can't let it happen,” King said.