By Cristina Marcos
June 16, 2016
In a break from previous votes on the issue, the House on Thursday rejected two GOP proposals to prevent the Obama administration from enlisting young illegal immigrants to serve in the military.
Lawmakers voted down two proposals offered by immigration hard-liners Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) that would prohibit the use of funds to enlist young illegal immigrants granted work permits under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
More than 30 Republicans with more centrist views on immigration joined all Democrats in opposition to the two amendments offered to a Defense Department spending bill. The two amendments offered by King and Gosar went down narrowly on votes of 207-214 and 210-211, respectively.
Certain young illegal immigrants qualify for the DACA program if they have lived in the U.S. since 2007 before the age of 16 and have completed high school-level education.
The Obama administration has already enlisted some DACA recipients through a program, Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), that recruits legal immigrants with valued foreign language or medical skills to serve in the military. Gosar said the Pentagon confirmed to his office that it had recruited 141 DACA recipients as of April.
The provisions in the two amendments would block the Obama administration from using the MAVNI program to enlist illegal immigrants who are in the country though the DACA program.
Democrats sought to portray the votes as Republicans pushing legislation that echoes their presumptive presidential nominee’s harsh rhetoric toward immigrants.
“Clearly, House Republicans are taking their anti-immigrant cues from Donald Trump,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), the chairman of House Democrats’ campaign arm.
“They come here in the spirit of Donald Trump,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said of the House GOP. “What we’re seeing with these amendments is part of a larger pattern of hostility toward Hispanic Americans on the part of the Republican Party.”
King and Gosar said that the Obama administration is stretching the limits of the MAVNI program intended for immigrants who have legal status.
“It’s not for the president to use this as a blanket amnesty,” King said.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), an Iraq War veteran, argued that the military should be able to recruit anyone it thinks would be in the national interest.
“Simply put, we shouldn’t let political posturing stand in the way of our military’s requirement goals,” Gallego said.
It’s the second time in a week that House Democrats have used an immigration-related provision in an appropriations bill to try to tie the GOP to Trump.
The annual spending bill for legislative branch operations typically passes with a wide bipartisan majority. But the measure passed largely along party lines last week after Democrats opposed it over a provision reversing a decision made by the Library of Congress to stop using the term “illegal alien” in its subject headings.
Republicans maintained that the phrase simply reflects that some people are in the country illegally. But Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) urged fellow Democrats to vote against the spending bill, arguing that the term “perpetuates racism and promotes hate."
Debate over allowing illegal immigrants to serve in the military came close to threatening passage of the annual defense authorization last year.
The House Armed Services Committee had approved a provision establishing a “sense of the House” that the Pentagon should review allowing DACA recipients to enlist during its markup of the bill. But the House later voted to eliminate the language, which merely inched toward the idea, in response to conservative outcry.
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