GOP push for immigration reform thwarted

One of the few House Republican proposals aimed at allowing some undocumented immigrants to become legal U.S. residents was blocked Friday by a powerful committee chairman, who said he would not allow the measure to move forward in his bill.


Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) speaks during a recent subcommittee hearing. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The decision by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) further lowers the odds that any immigration reform proposal will pass in the Republican-controlled House this year.

The move could also cause political trouble for a half dozen House Republicans who represent districts with growing immigrant communities. They are expected to face well-funded campaigns by Democrats and immigration rights groups to unseat them in the fall.

Two of them, Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), have been touting proposals that would allow qualified undocumented immigrants to enlist in the U.S. military and then seek to become legal permanent residents if they met certain service requirements. Other Republicans, mostly from western states, have been pressuring GOP leaders to allow votes on the proposals or include them in the National Defense Authorization Act, a comprehensive bill that is considered must-pass legislation.

But McKeon said Friday that he will not allow either proposal to be added to the defense bill, saying it is not the appropriate legislative vehicle for them. The decision came after several days of loud objections from conservative Republicans, who first learned about the possibility of including Denham’s proposal in the defense bill from reports in conservative news outlets such as Breitbart News.

McKeon said in a statement Friday that he had heard from colleagues "on both sides of this issue. They have made sound arguments and raised valid concerns, and my colleagues and friends Congressmen Denham and Coffman deserve a great deal of credit for responsibly raising the matter. This is an important issue that I know will continue to be debated going forward.”

Aides to Coffman and Denham said Friday that they would continue seeking ways to hold votes on their proposals.

Whether immigration becomes a topic of debate in the House this year remains unclear. After trumpeting a list of immigration principles at their annual policy retreat in January, GOP leaders quickly retreated and cast doubt that the House could take up the issue amid lingering distrust with the Obama administration over the enforcement of several unrelated policies. In the months since, members of both parties have said that consideration of immigration reform is unlikely this year and that the consideration of modest proposals might occur only after November's elections.

McKeon's announcement likely will play into a series of protests scheduled to occur in the coming days and organized by advocates increasingly concerned that Congress will not act on a comprehensive immigration bill. On Saturday, groups across the country will participate in a day of action titled “Two Million Too Many," aimed at drawing attention to the Obama administration’s deportation policies.  In Washington, advocates said they will hold a rally and march from Lamont Park in Mount Pleasant to Lafayette Park, and two families of undocumented immigrants who were deported announced they plan to have a presence in front of the White House each day starting Saturday.

Also, the AFL-CIO, which has supported comprehensive immigration reform, launched a petition to lobby the Obama administration to allow a woman named Silvia to remain in the country despite facing deportation proceedings. Her husband already has been deported, the labor union said in a letter to supporters.

President Obama told advocates in a meeting at the White House last month that he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to undertake a review of its enforcement policies, although the president has continued to insist he is legally powerless to expand a 2012 decision to defer the deportations of undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.
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