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There are young immigrants in this country illegally who want to serve in the U.S. Military. A defense bill on the floor of the House today could include a measure aimed at allowing that. But some Republicans have threatened to vote against the entire defense bill if that provision is included. NPR's Juana Summers has the story.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Cesar Vargas has a resume most young Americans would envy. He graduated from a Brooklyn high school that counts Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders among its alumni. He made honors in both college and law school, but because he was brought to the United States from Mexico illegally when he was five years old, he can't fulfill one of his dreams - becoming a military lawyer.
CESAR VARGAS: What really comes down to it is the commitment to serve the country you call home, the country you want to be able to ,you know, where a uniform.
SUMMERS: Vargas is the co-director of the DREAM Action Coalition, a group that advocates for young Latinos. He said he tried to enlist in 2011 after he graduated from law school but couldn't. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to see a path for immigrants like Vargas, known as DREAMers, to serve in the military. Congressman Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, sponsored an amendment encouraging the Pentagon to review the law that says who can serve in the military. He wants the Pentagon to determine whether or not it should include immigrants who have received work permits and deportation relief under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But some House conservatives led by Alabama Republican Mo Brooks want to see the immigration language tossed out.
REPRESENTATIVE MO BROOKS: You've got a military that is already suffering from severe cuts. With all that's going on, you've got Congressman Gallego who is wanting to promote illegal aliens and put them in a position to compete with American citizens for military service positions.
SUMMERS: More than two dozen House Republicans wrote a letter to the chairman of the House Rules Committee calling the immigration language a severe threat to passage of the defense bill. Gallego said he was surprised that this provision prompted a clash with some Republicans. He said he thought they were using the nonbinding amendment to play immigration politics.
CONGRESSMAN RUBEN GALLEGO: This is something that is really important, not because these young men and women have a right to be in the military, nobody has a right to be in the military. It's the opportunity and the privilege to serve in the military that we should extend to anybody that's in this country.
SUMMERS: But Brooks said that shouldn't happen at the expense of keeping Americans and legal immigrants employed.
BROOKS: There is a one-for-one ratio. Each time an illegal alien gets an enlistment position, that means that there was one American citizen or one lawful immigrant who lost that job opportunity.
SUMMERS: The amendment passed in committee with Democratic votes and the help of six Republicans, including Colorado's Mike Coffman who served in both Iraq wars.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE COFFMAN: They care enough about this country that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom. I think that's an extraordinary thing. I go beyond this; I believe that there ought to be a path to citizenship based on their military service.
SUMMERS: Gallego's amendment doesn't go that far, but a measure sponsored by California Republican Jeff Denham does. It would allow young dreamers to earn green cards by serving in the military. That proposal has failed to gain support of House Republican leadership. Juana Summers, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.