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National News

May 25, 2014

GOP rejects immigration proposal

Not only have House Republican leaders ditched a comprehensive immigration overhaul from the Senate, now they are even blocking a more modest effort from one of their own.

House GOP leaders have refused to allow a vote on legislation from Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., that would provide legal status and a path to citizenship for immigrants who serve in the military.

Last week, Denham tried to attach his bill to the National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping must-pass annual spending bill. But GOP leaders blocked a vote on the amendment. Denham has vowed to try again.

The country has a long history of naturalizing immigrants through military service. In 2002, President George W. Bush expedited citizenship for those who served after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks—including those here illegally. Since then, the Immigration Policy Center estimates, 53,000 immigrants, those with legal status and not, have obtained citizenship through military service.

Denham, a former Air Force crew chief who served in Desert Storm, argued to his GOP colleagues that he knew many immigrants during his time in the service, and that they served the nation faithfully.

Just as important to Denham, he represents a Central Valley agriculture-heavy district in California that is 40 percent Latino, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

But Denham is a bit of an outlier in the party. Most Republican lawmakers represent districts that have been gerrymandered into conservative strongholds, with few minority populations.

With the upcoming election, party leaders want to protect lawmakers from having to take votes that may be unpopular back home.

Call it the incumbent protection program.

A similar episode unfolded earlier this month in the Senate, where leaders could not agree to vote on the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Some Democrats were less than thrilled to go on the record with an issue that is toxic among environmentalists. And Republicans were loath to give a handful of endangered Democrats, mostly from states that support the pipeline, a chance to demonstrate their party independence by voting in favor of the project.

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