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California Republican Congressman Denham pushes immigration reform in defense bill

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham attended the immigration rally at the National Mall last fall
Republican Rep. Jeff Denham attended the immigration rally at the National Mall last fall
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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For the second time this week, a California Congressman has tried to attach an amendment to a spending bill to move immigration reform forward in the House of Representatives. And for the second time, Republicans blocked the attempt – even though the latest request came from a fellow GOP member.

Congressman Jeff Denham's ENLIST (Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act) bill would offer permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who serve in the military. The sophomore Republican from Turlock pushed for the measure to be included as an amendment to the military spending bill, even though he does not sit on the House Armed Services Committee.

Conservative critics reacted swiftly, calling it “blanket amnesty.”

Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King told Breitbart News: “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."

Fellow Republican Congressman Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita is a cosponsor of Denham’s bill. But as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, McKeon says it won’t be part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

McKeon isn't the only GOP co-sponsor of the ENLIST Act on the Armed Services Committee.

GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter of El Cajon in San Diego County says the legislation makes sense considering that fewer than one percent of America's population is serving in the military.

"If somebody wants to serve the nation, then they can serve the nation," said Hunter, a Marine veteran.

But Hunter said if the measure came up as an amendment to the defense budget, he doesn't know how he would vote.

"You don't want to kill the defense bill," Hunter said.

Denham says he’ll take it to the Rules Committee, which last year allowed him to bring ENLIST to the floor. But last year, Denham withdrew the measure before the vote. He says he was "asked to withdraw it so that we could include it in the broader immigration package."

He says since that broader immigration package has yet to move forward: "I feel that it’s important to move this piece forward."

Denham, who is up for re-election in his heavily Latino district, is one of two California GOP House members who signed on to the immigration bill proposed by House Democrats.

Earlier this week, Democratic Congressman Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles also tried to include comprehensive immigration reform as an amendment to the budget bill, citing an estimated $900 billion in deficit savings that could be gained should immigration reform be enacted. His amendment was struck down on a party line vote. View a video of the request below. 

Republican Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, has spoken of his support for immigration reform. On this latest amendment, he said: "I'm not getting into that one."

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