A Dynamic Week for Immigration

May 11, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Provisions in a defense bill and posturing among presidential candidates make for an active week ahead in the immigration conversation.

In the House, a floor debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could take place Wednesday, with a final vote Thursday. Thanks to a bipartisan vote last week, the bill includes a provision asking the Pentagon to consider allowing young immigrants who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to serve in the U.S. military. Conservatives are threatening to remove the provision.

Separately, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) is pushing for a vote on an amendment that would add the provisions of his ENLIST Act to the bill. These provisions would allow immigrants to serve in the military and gain legal status. What amendments will get a vote is unclear.

Meanwhile, setting the table for this week’s conversation among presidential candidates, likely candidate Rick Santorum’s suggestion Saturday that the country limit legal immigration met with a strong reaction from conservative South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney.

“I’m disappointed to hear a high-ranking member of my party taking that position,” Mulvaney said. “That’s not how we built this country. Listen, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about unskilled labor, and a 10th grade education or whatever to get here, but if that were the case my family would not have gotten here from Ireland. They were unskilled workers and they helped build this country. It’s not quite xenophobia, but it’s moving that way.”

Overall, more and more voters and candidates are providing more open and constructive stances on immigration, which is moving the conversation forward.

“The mainstream position among voters is a consensus that we need a better immigration process,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “Hardworking new Americans need the opportunities, skills and status that will help all of us thrive. Serious candidates from both parties realize that. They know they need to address undocumented immigrants in a humane way.”

How does the conversation continue forward from here? Leaders in Congress need to focus the debate.

“Without legislation from either party, candidates will resort to political point-scoring and cynicism,” Noorani said. “In that case, Democrats win simply by noting that Republican leadership is ignoring the consensus among voters, offering nothing constructive and turning the debate over to hard-liners.”