The average citizen watching the Republicans work out an internal conflict over whether non-citizens should be provided with legal status if they serve in the U.S. military must be pretty confused by now.
In April, over a dozen House Republicans introduced a bill that would allow the children of illegal immigrants brought into the U.S. by their parents to obtain legal residency by serving in uniform. A similar measure was introduced in the last Congress and was supposed to be included in an annual defense appropriations measure, but House GOP leadership blocked the move.
The new bill would extend the award of U.S. legal residency to the illegal immigrants already serving since the military began accepting undocumented recruits in September of last year. This year’s defense bill did include the amendment that would extend legal status to illegal immigrant servicemen and women, but the move split the GOP in the House.
On Thursday, an amendment that would scrap that provision was introduced by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL). “In a letter to fellow lawmakers earlier Thursday, Brooks argued the provision was adopted during the ‘early morning, sleep-deprived portion’ of the markup and didn’t belong in the bill” The Hill reported.
“This Congress should support and represent Americans by voting to stop military service opportunities from being taken from struggling American families in order to give them to illegal aliens,” Brooks argued. This is not rhetoric. In 2014, the Armed Forces turned away 80 percent of aspiring applicants as the military rapidly contracts.
By a vote of 221 to 202, and even with 20 Republicans joining a united House Democratic caucus in support of this measure, the amendment that would have provided legal status to illegal immigrant veterans was stripped from the defense bill.
Is this good politics for the GOP? While it’s always a black mark for any party to appear at war with itself, the polls on this issue paint a complicated picture. While a YouGov poll from October of last year found 42 percent were opposed to allowing illegal immigrants to serve in uniform compared to 37 percent who supported it, the vast majority of respondents – 56 percent – said that those who do serve should receive legal status for doing so. Support for legal status for illegal immigrant veterans included 67 percent of self-described Democratic respondents, 55 percent of independents, and a plurality – 43 to 40 percent – of self-identified Republicans.
While that suggests that the GOP’s decision to block legal status for undocumented veterans is popular, it’s not clear if it is as popular as it might have been just a few months ago. A February, 2013 CBS News Poll found “60 percent of Republicans, and 81 percent of Democrats, favor a path to citizenship for those who are under 30, were brought to the U.S. as children, have no criminal record and obtain either two years of college or military service.”
Regardless of whether providing illegal immigrants who serve in the armed forces a pathway to legal status is wildly popular or just really popular, it should be clear to all observers that the decision by a majority of the House GOP to block this measure is not going to be warmly greeted by the general public.
Don’t expect Hillary Clinton to miss an opportunity to present herself as a champion for a broadly popular liberal priority that is being blocked by the Republican members of an unpopular Congress. “If these courageous young men and women want to serve, they should be honored and celebrated, not discriminated against,” Amanda Renteria, Clinton’s national political director, said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton is committed to comprehensive immigration reform to strengthen families and our country. While we keep up the pressure for comprehensive action, allowing Dreamers to serve in the military is the right step forward.”
On this issue, it’s likely that the majority of the voting public will side with Clinton. Providing a pathway to legal status for the handful of illegal immigrants who would risk their lives in service to their adopted homeland enjoys the public’s support, and Republicans are courting a backlash by blocking that provision.