U.S. Representative Paul Gosar of Prescott is behind a new push to prevent undocumented immigrants from serving in the U.S. military.
This week, the three-term Republican congressman introduced an amendment to remove from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) language that would edge toward allowing young undocumented immigrants to enlist in the U.S. military.
"NDAA should be about providing critical funding for our troops, not debating immigration policy," Gosar said in a statement. "Sadly, open-border advocates have once again put politics ahead of the needs of our men and women in uniform in attempting to enact President Obama's lawless agenda."
Gosar was referring to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, announced by President Barack Obama in 2012. The program offers temporary protection from deportation to undocumented young immigrants who came to the United States as children and allows them to apply for a work permit and a social security number.
Last month, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, offered an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would allow Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to enlist anyone he deems "vital to the national interest" — potentially leaving the door open for DACA recipients to enlist.
Thornberry proposed the amendment, which was approved by a voice vote, as a compromise to another amendment introduced by Representative Ruben Gallego of Phoenix, which sought to establish a process so that DACA recipients could join the military.
Now Thornberry's amendment would be replaced by the one introduced by Gosar, which states that the secretary of defense can only enlist immigrants who have a "lawful immigration status" as defined by the
Immigration and Nationality Act.
In a statement, Gallego, a Democrat, expressed disappointment with Gosar's attempt to "irresponsibly revise compromise language introduced by the Republican committee chairman."
"This amendment is about defense and what is in the best interest of our nation and our military," said Gallego, an Iraq War veteran, referring to Thornberry's amendment. "I fought in Iraq, and I know that on the battlefield what matters is the character and commitment of the people you serve with, not their immigration status."
The Arizona congressman isn't the first to try to include language in the NDAA to allow undocumented immigrants to serve in the U.S. military. Other members of Congress, including several Republicans, have tried to do the same, but every attempt has been unsuccessful.
In 2013 and 2014, U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California introduced an amendment to the NDAA that would give undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children a chance to serve in the U.S. military. The text of the amendment was based on a bill, dubbed the ENLIST Act, that Denham has been pushing for since 2013.
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"The ENLIST Act would not change immigration law, but it would allow young Americans the chance to serve the country they love," Denham, a Republican, said last year.
Arizona Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has supported legislation known as the DREAM Act that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship if they served in the U.S. military. The bill, which McCain co-sponsored numerous times, failed to pass.
When asked about Gosar's amendment, McCain's office told New Times it is not commenting on House amendments to the NDAA.