Efforts to open the door for DREAMers — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — to serve in the military were squashed in Congress Thursday evening.
The Republican-led House voted to strip a measure included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have pushed the secretary of defense to consider allowing some undocumented DREAMers to serve in the military.
In a 221 to 202 vote, an amendment brought by Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks cut out the immigrant-friendly language written into the bill, which would have brought young immigrants eligible for President Barack Obama's deferred action DACA program one step closer to being able to serve their country.
“To take military service jobs from Americans and from lawful immigrants in order to give them to illegal aliens is outrageous and unconscionable,” Brooks said on the House floor during debate Thursday.
The measure would only have had limited impact. Brought by Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, a freshman Democrat who served as a Marine, it would not have changed the existing policy, but rather encouraged leaders in the Pentagon to review accepting DREAMers.
Without the Brooks amendment, the NDAA bill was on track for a showdown in the House for immigration hard-liners who have vowed to fight Obama’s executive actions at every opportunity. They were more willing to sink the bill's passage than be seen as endorsing the president's policies. The House has already voted at least three times to undermine DACA benefits. The full NDAA bill with Gallego's measure would have given them yet another chance to vote against pro-immigrant measures — or put them on record doing just the opposite.
No Democrat voted in favor of the Brooks amendment. "This is yet another example of anti-immigrant attitude on the part of the House Republicans," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the vote.
Since 2012, more than 780,000 DREAMers brought to the U.S. as young children have taken advantage of the DACA program, which allows them to live and work lawfully in the country for a two-year period. Thousands more would likely qualify under the expanded 2014 DACA program currently tied up in the courts. But a small number of DREAMers are already able to sign up for military service. Last September, the Defense Department opened up enrollment for Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, allowing some DREAMers with specific language skills to sign up.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has already etched an immigrant-friendly platform for her 2016 campaign, came out in support of allowing DREAMers to serve in the military.
"If these courageous young men and women want to serve, they should be honored and celebrated, not discriminated against," Amanda Renteria, national political director for Clinton's campaign said in a statement. "While we keep up the pressure for comprehensive action, allowing DREAMers to serve in the military is the right step forward."