The National Defense Authorization Act, currently making its way through the Republican-controlled U.S. House, includes language encouraging the secretary of defense to allow immigrants who are in the country illegally to serve in the military.
The provision asks Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to consider making those who were approved for deferred deportation under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program eligible for military service.
NDAA, annual legislation funding the Department of Defense, is expected to be voted on next week in the House.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who introduced the amendment, said in a statement it “shouldn’t be a controversial issue.”
“The secretary of defense has the authority to deem what is in the national interest of the United States, and all we are asking is for him to consider allowing DACA recipients who meet the criteria and want to serve, into our military for that same reason,” said Gallego.
Gallego, a veteran of the Iraq War, added that “this amendment is about defense and what is in the best interest of our nation and our military.”
“What matters is the quality and commitment of the people you serve with, not their immigration status,” he said.
In a statement, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, criticized the provision as “an amnesty amendment.”
“The amendment encourages the secretary of defense to find ways to enlist illegal immigrants granted amnesty under the president’s illegal and unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals into the armed services,” said King. “This policy would provide a fast track to citizenship for those accepted into a program Congress has voted to defund three times.”
King added that it is “disappointing” that “a bill designed to keep this nation safe from its enemies at a time of war” is being used to give “citizenship to illegal immigrants.”
“It is the wrong policy on the wrong bill at the worst time,” he said.
David Inserra, a research assistant at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in a recent op-ed that the provision “builds on Obama’s lawless actions and accepts illegal immigrants into the military at a time when thousands of American citizens are being cut from the military because of harmful defense budget cuts.”
“The National Defense Authorization Act should be focused on restoring funding for the U.S. military so that it can face the real and growing threats in the world today. The NDAA and military are the wrong places to toy around with social and immigration experiments—and it also poor policy,” wrote Inserra.