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Rep. Denham to Continue to Push for ENLIST Act in NDAA

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. (Douglas Graham/Roll Call File Photo)
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. (Douglas Graham/Roll Call File Photo)

The Republican leadership of the House has signaled its intent to block consideration of any immigration-related amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act this week, but Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., hasn’t given up — yet.  

Denham, who caused a stir last month by pledging to force a House vote on an amendment to the NDAA that would create a legal status pathway to undocumented immigrants who served the military — the so-called ENLIST Act — has filed that amendment with the House Rules Committee, which was set to meet Monday evening to determine whether to allow that amendment, and countless others, to be subject for debate. Denham is also asking the Rules Committee to allow consideration of an amendment that would call upon the secretary to Defense to compile a report on the number of undocumented immigrants who have, since 2000, enlisted in the military and gone onto obtain citizenship.  

And in a clear challenge to his colleagues after being told Friday the ENLIST Act would be blocked, Denham is also seeking consideration of an amendment that would eliminate three existing immigration provisions included in the base text of the NDAA: One that relates to the “sale or donation of excess personal property for border security activities,” one regarding an “extension of [an] Afghan special immigrant program” and one “relating to treatment of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”  

That final amendment, according to a statement from Denham’s office, has been submitted to the Rules Committee “to highlight the fact that NDAA frequently addresses immigration issues.”  

Critics of the ENLIST Act have argued repeatedly that the NDAA is not the appropriate place to consider immigration-related amendments, and House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., has said such matters fall within his panel’s purview and no one else’s.  

“If we want to include immigration in NDAA, then we should also consider the ENLIST Act,” Denham said in a statement.  

“The ENLIST Act is a change to military code, not immigration law,” he continued. ” [It] provides an avenue for those who want to perform the ultimate act of patriotism — serving their county — to earn legal status. As a veteran, I can think of no better way to demonstrate your commitment to our nation.”  

Denham has also emphasized that the ENLIST Act was made in order one year ago during House floor consideration of the NDAA. At that time less of a lightening-rod issue, Denham agreed not to request the yeas and nays in deference, he said, to Goodlatte, and to GOP colleagues who said they were committed to advancing immigration overhaul legislation by the end of the 113th Congress.  

Republican leaders could be called upon to explain why they’ve had a chance of heart from one year to the next on the issue, though it is likely due to the tense political environment and the looming midterm elections where GOP incumbents fear being scrutinized for taking immigration-related votes.  

Republicans have also said they would vote against the NDAA if an immigration-related provision like the ENLIST Act were to be included, meaning leaders faced a choice of allowing an immigration vote to go through or potentially dooming the entire legislation. Heritage Action said it would score votes on ENLIST and final passage of the NDAA if the amendment went through, and the Madison Project also signaled it would fight its inclusion .  

In any case, it’s clear that Denham, and others, intend to press the issue. On Tuesday, Denham, fellow Republican Mike Coffman of Colorado and Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., will join members of the military who have gained citizenship through their service for a press conference calling upon the House to pass legislation to address the nation’s flawed immigration system.  

Earlier Monday, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin held a hearing in Chicago to promote legal status for undocumented immigrants. He called for the Pentagon to act unilaterally to allow the enlistment of DREAMers, immigrants who came to the United States as children  

America’s Voice, an pro-immigration overhaul advocacy group, blasted Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Monday, after his spokesman, Doug Heye, told reporters late last week that the ENLIST Act would not come to the floor.  

“Cantor and other House Republican leaders will never be accused of being profiles in courage,” said America’s Voice executive director Frank Sharry. “But if they continue on the track they are on, they will be accused of dooming the GOP’s future.”