CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Scott Keyes
TAMPA, Florida — The U.S. House may take up immigration legislation with a very limited pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) said during a public forum event on Tuesday.
Ross said that the “only” citizenship provision that House Republicans may consider this summer is for a group of undocumented immigrants who want to join the military. He also said that a House Republican version of an immigration bill would likely include measures such as border security, a guest worker program, and visa programs for students, businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs.
ROSS: With regard to immigration, I think there’s an opportunity, according to the Speaker, that we might address immigration in July prior to the August recess. In the immigration package that if we considered as a House, it would include border security, it would include expanded visa programs for students and economic development and those who invest and start companies in the U.S., as well as a guest worker program for agricultural and service-oriented industries.
There may also be something in there for those who are here undocumented to join the military to allow a path to citizenship — that would be the only thing, I think, that would ever attempt to come out of the House with regard to the issue of citizenship.
A guest worker program would be highly beneficial for Ross’s district as it covers both Hillborough and Polk Counties, which have strong agricultural ties. Although his district is primarily Republican, Hispanics have doubled in his district between 2000 and 2010 and 78 percent of people in his district would support increased border security and an eventual pathway to citizenship. Ross has long supported piecemeal immigration legislation, but in February, told the Tampa Bay Times that “he would probably draw a Republican challenger if he embraced comprehensive reform.”
Introducing a military provision into a House Republican version of an immigration bill could likely stir the ire of some hard-right Republicans like Reps. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Steve King (R-IA) who said that undocumented immigrants would try to “defraud” the government. Then again, those members were never for immigration reform in the first place.
Other House Republicans have backed a similar military provision in the past. Last year, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and 14 bipartisan cosponsors, including House Committee on Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), introduced the ENLIST Act, but withdrew the bill before seeking a recorded vote. In recent days though, McKeon said that he wouldn’t include the provision into this year’s defense spending bill. During an interview with Breitbart News, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)’s political adviser said that Cantor endorsed allowing undocumented immigrants to enlist in the military, but has not publicly backed Denham’s bill.
With the maximum enlistment age set at 35, the pathway to citizenship in the military provision would be a more modest proposal than that contained in the bipartisan Senate immigration bill passed last year. That bill would have extended a permanent path to citizenship for the vast majority of the 11.7 million undocumented population. Although more than 52 percent of the undocumented population are between the ages of 18 and 35, not all of those immigrants would qualify for the military.