Washington PostGOP push for immigration reform thwarted
BY ED O'KEEFE AND DAVID NAKAMURA
April 4 at 3:49 pm
The head of the House Armed Services Committee dealt another blow to immigration reform efforts in the Republican-controlled House on Friday by deciding not to include in this year's defense policy bill GOP-written proposals that would permit undocumented immigrants to become legal U.S. residents if they serve in the military.
The decision could cause considerable political trouble for Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and other Republicans who represent districts with growing immigrant communities and are expected to face well-funded campaigns by Democrats and immigration rights groups to unseat them in this year's elections.
Coffman and Denham had been pushing proposals that would allow qualified undocumented immigrants to enlist in the U.S. military and then seek to become legal permanent residents if they met certain service requirements. Other House Republicans, mostly from Western states, have been pressuring GOP leaders to permit votes on the issue. In recent weeks, Coffman and Denham had asked GOP leadership to hold votes on their bills or at least include their language in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a comprehensive measure that is considered one of the few remaining must-pass pieces of legislation.
But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) said Friday that he will not allow either proposal to be added to this year's defense bill because he didn't believe it was the appropriate legislative venue for the measure. The decision came after several days of protest by conservative Republican lawmakers, who first learned about the possibility of including Denham's proposal in the defense bill from reports in conservative news outlets such as Breitbart News.
McKeon said in a statement Friday that he had heard from colleagues "on both sides of this issue. They have made sound arguments and raised valid concerns, and my colleagues and friends Congressmen Denham and Coffman deserve a great deal of credit for responsibly raising the matter. This is an important issue that I know will continue to be debated going forward.”
Aides to Coffman and Denham said Friday that they would continue seeking ways to hold votes on their proposals.
Whether immigration becomes a topic of debate in the House this year remains unclear. After trumpeting a list of immigration principles at their annual policy retreat in January, GOP leaders quickly retreated and cast doubt that the House could take up the issue amid lingering distrust with the Obama administration over the enforcement of several unrelated policies. In the months since, members of both parties have said that consideration of immigration reform is unlikely this year and that the consideration of modest proposals might occur only after November's elections.
McKeon's announcement likely will play into a series of protests scheduled to occur in the coming days and organized by advocates increasingly concerned that Congress will not act on a comprehensive immigration bill. On Saturday, groups across the country will participate in a day of action titled “Two Million Too Many," aimed at drawing attention to the Obama administration’s deportation policies. In Washington, advocates said they will hold a rally and march from Lamont Park in Mount Pleasant to Lafayette Park, and two families of undocumented immigrants who were deported announced they plan to have a presence in front of the White House each day starting Saturday.
Also, the AFL-CIO, which has supported comprehensive immigration reform, launched a petition to lobby the Obama administration to allow a woman named Silvia to remain in the country despite facing deportation proceedings. Her husband already has been deported, the labor union said in a letter to supporters.
President Obama told advocates in a meeting at the White House last month that he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to undertake a review of its enforcement policies, although the president has continued to insist he is legally powerless to expand a 2012 decision to defer the deportations of undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.