As controversial as immigration policy has become as Republican politics shifts further and further to the right, the one area where compromise has appeared possible relates to military service.
Almost exactly a year ago, there was rare, bipartisan support for a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to serve in the American military. As we discussed at the time, the plan was pretty straightforward: young, undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before they turned 15 would be welcome to enlist. After their service, so long as they’re honorably discharged, these immigrants would become legal permanent residents and be eligible to apply for citizenship.
The idea is entirely in line with American traditions – for generations, many immigrants to the U.S. became citizens by serving in the military – but House Republicans nevertheless killed the proposal.
A year later, proponents of the idea have considered adding a related policy to this year’s defense spending bill (the “National Defense Authorization Act,” or “NDAA”). At least that was the idea.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on Tuesday shot down a proposal that would move toward allowing some illegal immigrants to serve in the military. […]“It would not be accepted by the House. I’ve got to have a House agreement; they would never agree to putting that on the NDAA,” McCain said. “If I put it on the defense bill, what happens in the House? The whole bill crashes…. The defense bill is for defense, not for Dreamers.”
Keep in mind, we’re talking about an idea that the White House supports, many lawmakers from both parties have endorsed, and would be broadly popular with the American mainstream. But McCain knows House Republicans don’t like it, so the senator isn’t willing to press the issue.
We’re not even talking about an overly ambitious idea. If The Hill’s reporting is accurate, the relevant provisions “encourage the Secretary of Defense to study allowing illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are shielded from deportation through President Obama’s executive actions to serve in the military.”
But for GOP lawmakers, even this is apparently a bridge too far.
Danny Vinik had a good piece on the subject last year, arguing, “Republicans and Democrats agree on very little in the debate over immigration reform…. But there should be one thing that everyone agrees on: If you are an undocumented immigrant and you serve in the United States military, we’ll grant you a green card. If you are willing to put your life on the line for this country, then you deserve the right to stay here.”
For what it’s worth, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a supporter of the underlying idea, has vowed to pursue the same policy through free-standing legislation, though it appears his party is committed to preventing its passage.