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    Immigration advocates still push for path to citizenship through military service

    Immigration advocates still push for path to citizenship through military service

    Leslie Berestein Rojas | May 27th, 2014, 5:00am

    The attention paid to a bill that would let some unauthorized immigrants serve in the military shows how much the immigration debate has evolved in recent years.

    A controversial bill to let unauthorized immigrants serve in the military as a way of obtaining a path to citizenship failed to get traction in the House of Representatives last week as an amendment to a national defense bill. But the attention surrounding the effort points to how the immigration reform debate has shifted in the last few years.

    Last year, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) introduced what's known as the ENLIST Act. It proposes amending the U.S. military code to allow young immigrants who arrived in this country by age 15 to serve in the armed forces, in exchange for legal status and a path to citizenship.

    Last week, Denham introduced his measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — a move struck down by the House Rules Committee after intense opposition from conservative activists. Still, the bill garnered substantial bipartisan support, with about 50 co-sponsors split almost evenly along party lines.

    Immigrant advocates have supported the bill. Last week, several "Military Dreamers" — young unauthorized immigrants who wish to join the military — flew to Washington to lobby for the measure, including 25-year-old Michael Nazario of Phoenix.

    "In high school, I was really involved in the Junior ROTC program," Nazario said in a phone interview. "And due to the fact that my mentors were former servicemen, that really gave me the inspiration to want to join the service.”

    Nazario has obtained temporary legal status through the federal deferred action program, along with a work permit that allows him to work legally in construction jobs. But he still can't join the Marines as he’d like to – or have a shot at citizenship.

    It’s not the first time a military-only legalization bill has surfaced. But it’s the first time one has garnered this much support from immigrant advocates. In 2012, a similar bill called the ARMS Act came and went with little ado — and with far less support from the immigrant rights lobby.

    Back then, advocates were still optimistic about a broader legalization plan, says Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis school of law and an expert on immigration policy.

    "In the past, there were some Democratic legislators and some immigrant rights groups who said we need across-the-board reform, not piecemeal reform," Johnson said. "I think that’s going a bit by the wayside, because we have been involved in this debate for so long, and people are just looking for some kind of – even if it’s relatively small-scale – relief for some groups of immigrants.”

    Denham’s bill could get a vote on the House floor as a stand-alone measure this summer.
    Last edited by imblest; 05-28-2014 at 10:24 AM. Reason: separated paragraphs
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    Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) join a group of military 'DREAMers,' undocumented youth who aspire to serve the United States military but are prohibited from doing due to their immigration status, during a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on May 20, 2014. | Getty Images

    Gutierrez in Richmond, Va. to prod Cantor on immigration reform

    Wed, 05/28/2014 - 8:47am

    Lynn Sweet
    @lynnsweet | Email

    WASHINGTON — Rep. Luis Gutiettez D-Ill. on Wednesday hits Richmond Va. to discuss immigration reform at the State Capitol. Richmond is in the congressional district of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor R-Va. congressional district (VA-7) and the event is designed to try to prod Cantor into getting House leadership to take up immigration reform — almost a year after the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill.
    There is not a lot of time left. In a speech on the House floor last week (May 20) Gutierrez noted only 18 legislative days before Congress takes a July 4 break.

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