WASHINGTON (AP) — Defying House Republican leaders, a GOP congressman on Monday moved toward forcing an election-year decision on his immigration legislation.
Rep. Jeff Denham of California filed his bill, known as the ENLIST Act, as an amendment to the sweeping defense policy measure that the House will consider this week. The measure would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children and serve in the military.
The bill "provides an avenue for those who want to perform the ultimate act of patriotism — serving their county — to earn legal status," Denham said in a statement. "As a veteran, I can think of no better way to demonstrate your commitment to our nation."
His move comes three days after House GOP leaders took steps to block a vote on the immigration legislation, dealing a significant blow to efforts to overhaul a system widely disparaged as dysfunctional.
The Rules Committee will decide on Tuesday what amendments the House will consider and vote on as part of its work on the National Defense Authorization Act.
Doug Heye, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said on Friday: "No proposed ENLIST amendments to NDAA will be made in order."
The GOP-led Rules panel rarely breaks with the leadership, following its wishes.
The Senate passed a comprehensive bill last year that would boost border security, remake legal worker programs and offer a path to citizenship to the estimated 11.5 million people now living here illegally. That bill remains stalled in the Republican-led House where Speaker John Boehner has blamed GOP distrust of President Barack Obama to enforce any law for the inaction.
Despite a wide coalition of business, labor, religious groups, farmers and others pushing for an immigration overhaul, many individual Republican House members who represent largely white districts have been unmoved. That's particularly true in an election year amid concerns about angering core GOP voters.
Denham's measure was widely popular and seen as perhaps the likeliest area for compromise on the divisive issue of immigration.
Denham's bill would allow immigrants who were brought to this country on or before Dec. 31, 2011, and were younger than 15 years old to become legal, permanent residents — the first step toward citizenship — through honorable service in the military.
It was co-sponsored by 50 House members, 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans, but an outspoken minority was opposed. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., had warned that "all hell will break loose" if Denham tried to promote the measure.
Separately, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, filed an amendment to the bill that would allow young immigrants who were brought here illegally to apply to the U.S. military academies. His measure is not as far-reaching as Denham's bill, but it would force Republicans to decide whether the House votes on immigration legislation this week.