In Congress, a glimmer of bipartisanship on immigration

05/26/2014 3:32 PM

05/26/2014 3:33 PM

Rep. Jeff Denham is trying to jump-start debate on a national immigration overhaul and is taking heat from his own Republican Party for his efforts.

We’re glad that he’s making the effort and we hope he’ll find allies from both sides of the aisle in the struggle.

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 and the right thing to do. Anyone who cares enough about our nation to lay their lives on the line for it should be put on the fastest track possible to full membership in our society – citizenship. But nothing about immigration law or politics is straightforward in Washington, D.C.

Listen to what some of Denham’s fellow Republicans are saying.

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

How do you answer such a demagogic and paranoid statement as that? You don’t. You just point out that it’s demagogic and paranoid and walk away.

Unfortunately, there are others who agree with Brooks. Take 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.”

What? Going into battle is a “perverse incentive”? Fighting for America is a “negative impact”?

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.”

Whoever wrote that has been living too long in some ivory tower. Such statements are so far from reality we don’t even know how to respond.

Denham is absolutely not a Democrat. He was elected to his first term as something close to a tea party Republican. He has since moderated his views as his district lines have changed. We accept this as his sincere effort to end years of partisan paralysis on an issue that most directly affects California and other border states and requires a national solution.

Unlike either Needham or Brooks, Denham served in the military – 16 years in the Air Force, including in Desert Storm. He has no 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.

His intent, he has said, 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, who represents San Joaquin County, 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 in the right direction.

Too many Democrats and Republicans have become accustomed to fighting over immigration. 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.

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