On Thursday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) proposed an amendment to a defense spending bill that would allow so-called DREAMers — and other categories of non-resident immigrants — to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and earn citizenship.
“This is an attempt to hold funding for our military hostage, basically to amnesty, which could not pass on its own. It’s unseemly.”
For years, immigration reform advocates have argued that people who are illegal immigrants because their parents unlawfully brought them to America when they were children should be able to get citizenship. In 2012, President Obama issued a controversial executive action — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — that gives protection from deportation to people who entered illegally before their 16th birthday and before June 2007. A similar provision was part of comprehensive legislation that later failed to pass the House of Representatives.
Under Kirk’s proposed amendment, military service would be open to anyone who received employment authorization documents from the Obama administration under DACA. Under existing U.S. law, they also would be eligible for expedited citizenship after their military service.
Opponents of looser immigration blasted the proposal.
“It’s basically piggy-backing on what Republicans have said is an unconstitutional action by the president,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Mehlman said the amendment would apply to people who entered the country legally — such as international students — but are not permanent residents and cannot now serve in the military. He compared it to legislation sponsored for several years by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), called the ENLIST Act.
“This is also coming at a time when the military is downsizing,” Mehlman said. “This is an attempt to hold funding for our military hostage, basically to amnesty, which could not pass on its own. It’s unseemly.”
Kirk is a longtime supporter of immigration reform. He was one of 14 Republicans in the Senate to vote for the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill in 2013. Stances like that landed Kirk on the Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee’s “Cantor List,” named for the former majority leader who lost a Republican primary in 2014 over his support for immigration reform. The PAC endorsed James Marter, who unsuccessfully challenged Kirk in the GOP primary earlier this year.
“We’ve been warning people for a long time that Sen. Kirk is more in the service of illegal immigrants and backers like the Chamber of Commerce than American citizens,” said the PAC’s president, William Gheen.
Kirk likely has more to fear from the Democratic opposition than from primary challenges in Illinois, however. He is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election this year. Gheen said it would be OK if Kirk lost to a Democrat.
“I’d rather have a Democrat,” he said. “Democrats are less deceptive about their support for illegal immigration.”
Kirk’s amendment would appear to face a high hurdle. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, rejected attempts last year to shoehorn immigration reform into the National Defense Authorization Act.
“The defense bill is for defense, not for DREAMers,” he said at the time, according to The Hill.
With a tough primary fight from a former state senator who has bashed him for being soft on immigration, it would appear unlikely that McCain has changed his mind.