California Forum

Editorial: In Congress, a a glimmer of bipartisanship on immigration

Rep. Jeff Denham is trying to jump-start debate on national immigration overhaul, and is catching flak from his own Republican Party for his effort.

The Turlock Republican is carrying the ENLIST Act, HR 2377, a bill that would open the way for the undocumented children of illegal immigrants to serve the only country they’ve ever known by enlisting in the military. In exchange, they’d gain a path to citizenship.

It is a simple proposition, one that ought to be supported by Democrats and Republicans. But nothing about immigration law is straightforward in Washington, D.C., as reflected by some of the statements by some of Denham’s fellow Republicans.

“How do you ensure that illegal aliens are loyal to America and not another country?” Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., was quoted as asking on “Is it wise to entrust illegal aliens with questionable loyalties with America’s military secrets and weapons, including weapons of mass destruction?”

It’s hard to know how to answer such a demagogic and paranoid statement, except to note that it’s demagogic and paranoid.

On Brooks’ side is Michael A. Needham of the conservative Heritage Action for America group, who denounced the concept: “Advancing an amnesty-first agenda on the backs of our brave men and women in the military is deplorable. The ENLIST Act creates radical and perverse incentives that will have a negative impact on our military and our immigration system.”

The conservative National Review opined: “The idea demeans our troops and a number of legal immigrants. Standards were lowered during the Bush years because recruits were needed; now that they have been tightened again, Democrats would like to lower them as a political ploy.”

As Denham proves by his party registration, the legislation is not a Democratic ploy, but rather an attempt to end years of partisan paralysis on an issue that most directly affects California and other border states and requires a national solution.

Nor does Denham, a 16-year Air Force veteran who served in Desert Storm, have any desire to lower standards for the military.

Denham’s legislation – the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act – is short, fewer than 600 words.

Denham’s told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board that his intent is to “allow kids who know only America to serve the country they love.” He is pushing for a vote on the legislation in the coming weeks, and hopes it will lead to broader immigration law overhaul.

Twenty-four Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, including House Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Central Valley Reps. Devin Nunes and David Valadao. Notable for their absences are Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale.

Another 26 Democrats also are co-sponsors, including nine Californians, Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton and Mike Thompson of St. Helena among them. Spokespersons for Reps. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, say they intend to sign on as co-sponsors.

On its own, Denham’s bill won’t solve the overall immigration issue. But it is a step toward ending the seemingly endless immigration debate.

Too many Democrats and Republicans have become accustomed to fighting over immigration. That must stop. Members of Congress need to step out of their bunkers, embrace Denham’s measure, which offers common ground, and move on to a more comprehensive overhaul.