GOP Leaders Frown on Immigration Bill for Military

May 21, 2014

Rep. Mike Coffman at a press conference Tuesday on illegal immigrants joining the military. (Colorado Observer/Mark Stricherz)

Rep. Mike Coffman at a press conference Tuesday on illegal immigrants joining the military. (Colorado Observer/Mark Stricherz)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Coffman spoke from the heart; He also spoke in Spanish.

In the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, he signaled that House Republican leaders should hold a vote on his legislation that would permit some foreign-born young people to enlist in the military and become citizens.

“There’s a special place in my heart for this bill,” the Colorado Republican said at a press conference Tuesday, referring to the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act he authored.

“I entered the military at the age of 17. I had been a high school drop-out and got my equivalency degree in the Army on the GI Bill,” Coffman said.

Coffman said his legislation is an opportunity for those “who grew up here, who went to school here, whose families are here … to have the opportunity to serve and earn a path to citizenship.”

Coffman’s comments came during a press conference that also featured a high-profile Democratic lawmaker and a dozen young Hispanics practicing military maneuvers, and were designed to draw the attention of House Republican leadership. More than a dozen reporters attended the event along with eight TV cameras on tripods including Telemundo, a prominent Spanish-language network.

Coffman and his staff have given conflicting signals about the prospects of the bill becoming law. Coffman was skeptical that Republican leaders would allow a floor vote on the measure.

However, an aide later said that odds the legislation could become law through other procedures are better than media reports indicate.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office, which sets the floor agenda, has stated it would not allow the Defense Authorization Act to be amended this week with language granting citizenship to illegal immigrants in the military.

However, House Speaker John Boehner told Politico “there have been discussions” to allow a vote on legislation similar to Coffman’s bill sponsored by California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.

The strongest resistance to Coffman and Denham’s measure comes from within the Republican caucus. Rep. Steve King of Iowa Republican told The Observer that the military has plenty of potential enlistees already.

“We have always had a steady supply of Americans in the military. We had 16 million Americans in World War II, when the country’s population was half as large. We’re a long ways from that today,” King said.

In contrast to Coffman, Denham along with Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez criticized Republican leaders for blocking a vote this week.

“The reality is Coffman and Denham are struggling within their own party,” Gutierrez said.

Denham struck a similar note: “I’m frustrated that the leadership in the House has not voted on this issue.”

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