House Panel Rejects Military Dream Act

The proposal would allow undocumented adults who came to the U.S. as children to enlist in the military, and start on a path to citizenship. The House Rules Committee won't let it come to a vote.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Last night in a meeting room on an upper floor of the Capitol building there was a vote on immigration. It was the closest the House has comes this year to voting on that issue and the vote failed. The House Rules Committee rejected an attempt by a Republican lawmaker to let immigrants brought to this country illegally as children earn permanent residency by serving in the military. NPR's SV Date reports.

S.V. DATE, BYLINE: Jeff Denham is a Republican Congressman but he doesn't represent the typical Republican House district. It's in the northern part of California's Central Valley, with lots of Mexican-American and other Latino constituents. Knowing his house colleagues' aversion to a major immigration overhaul, the Gulf War veteran thought he could champion a very limited overhaul, one that could ride along with the annual defense authorization bill. Here's Denham making his case.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF DENHAM: These men and women want to serve the only country that they know. They're willing to put their lives on the line for our freedom. Why wouldn't we have that as part of the National Defense Reauthorization Bill?

DATE: Unlike the bill the Senate passed last year with a path to citizenship for unlawful immigrants, Denham's proposal allows such a path only to those brought here as children who then enlist in the military.

UIDENTIFIED MAN: Platoon! Attention!

DATE: Denham and immigration overhaul advocates staged a news conference yesterday. They brought in a dozen Dreamers, as they are known, from around the country dressed in matching T-shirts and camouflage caps. They talked about their years in high school and college ROTC, and their hopes of one day joining the real military.

Michael Nazario was brought to this country when he was six. When he was in high school ROTC, he told his father he'd made a decision.

MICHAEL NAZARIO: I told him: Dad, papa, I want to be a Marine. I want to serve my country. I saw his face. A blank face. He said, mijo, son, you won't be able to. Why? Because you lack a nine-digit Social Security number.

DATE: Nazario was among the Dreamers at the Capitol yesterday who were told House Speaker John Boehner had already made it clear Denham's plan was not going forward, at least for now.

HOUSE SPEAKER: Trying to do this on the National Defense Authorization bill seems to us to be an inappropriate place to do it.

DATE: So would Boehner allow a vote on the issue as a free-standing bill?

, REPUBLICAN, OHIO: There have been discussions about that but no decisions.

DATE: But the way Denham sees it there's been plenty of discussion already. He first pushed to add his plan to last year's defense authorization bill - quitting only with the understanding that a stand-alone bill doing the same thing would get a hearing. So far, though? Nothing.

DENHAM: It's been a year, still hasn't been resolved. I made it very clear that I was bringing this up either as an amendment or a standalone bill, and we're going to continue to push to do that.

DATE: Despite the no-go signal, Denham went ahead and made his case to the House Rules Committee, which decides how much time any bill gets on the floor and which amendments will be allowed. Denham explained to the committee that the United States has a long history of allowing foreigners to earn a chance at American citizenship by serving in the military.

He said he himself had served with Filipinos in the Gulf War who were given that opportunity. And he tried reminding the committee that it had approved the exact amendment he is seeking now a year ago. None of it worked. The committee's heavy majority of Republicans voted as Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested they should. Denham says he's not giving up.

DENHAM: I'll continue to push it as a stand-alone bill and drive my conference as well as drive the entire House. We've got over 50 co-sponsors already and we'll continue to get more.

DATE: But if he doesn't succeed, then Tuesday's committee vote could be the last official word on immigration in the Republican House before this fall's election. S.V. Date, NPR News, the Capitol.

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