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Republicans Gear Up For A Clash With Democrats Over Funneling Illegals Into Military

The House is back in session from recess next week, and GOP Rep. Steve King intends to jump straight into controversy by eliminating defense bill provisions that may permit illegal immigrants to join the military.

First introduced by Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, the original amendment urges the Secretary of Defense to pick illegals for a shrinking pool of spots in the nation’s armed forces, instead of Americans.

Gallego’s amendment passed by a 33-30 vote. Democrats supported the bill by 27-0, and Republicans voted against the provision by a 30-6 margin. For Gallego, the proposal is just a reaffirmation that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has the authority to decide what is in the national interest of the United States. In this case, Gallego and other supporters are asking for Carter to consider that illegal immigrants joining the U.S. military may fit that criterion.

Democratic Rep. Jeff Denham, whose constituency is largely dominated by Hispanics, is also preparing to introduce an amendment to directly allow illegals in the military and grant legal status.

King’s counter-amendment is currently in draft stage but he promises it will arrive on schedule.

“There are a lot of members angered by this,” King told The Hill. Known for his stringent opposition to illegal immigration, King has previously fought off attempts to funnel illegal immigrants into the military, calling them little more than “mercenaries.”

As of Tuesday, 25 House Republicans have banded together to try an alternative tactic: asking Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, to strike down the provision that would give illegals under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) a shot at citizenship if they joined the military.

In their letter, GOP lawmakers argued that including favorable treatment to illegals in the crucial defense bill jeopardized its chances of passing. The House has tried three times in the past to kill funding for DACA. Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, who is leading the 25 Republicans in the charge against the provision, also intends to follow in King’s footsteps by introducing an amendment to remove the language from the bill.

“With passage of this amendment, a majority on the Armed Services Committee urged the Secretary of Defense to hire DACA illegal immigrants, rather than American citizens, at the same time the Pentagon is in the process of laying off tens of thousands of American troops,” Brooks said in a statement.

“By voting to encourage DACA illegal immigrants to enlist in the military, members of Congress are both endorsing a cycle of perpetual amnesty for illegal immigrants and betraying struggling young Americans who wish to serve in America’s armed forces,” Brooks added.

Last year, 16 former military leaders wrote to express their disagreement with trying to use the National Defense Authorization Act as a vehicle to smuggle in controversial reforms. At the time, President Barack Obama pressured the American Legion to throw its support behind the illegal immigration amendment. The Legion refused.

On the Senate side, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, stated that at least on his watch, immigration measures won’t end up in the final version of the bill.

“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,’ ” McCain told The Hill.

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