President-elect Donald Trump and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) could not be more diametrically opposed when it comes to the topic of immigration.
Trump has promised to deport millions of “criminal” immigrants and make undocumented immigrants feel unsafe in the United States. Denham, who endorsed the president elect, has long positioned himself as a moderate Republican who supports a legal pathway for some undocumented immigrants.
Now, the Republican congressman believes that he could get Trump to approve legislation that would allow some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and obtain citizenship.
In a radio interview with The California Report on Wednesday, Denham said that he was hopeful that Trump would approve the ENLIST Act, which would create a legal status pathway for some undocumented immigrants who serve in the military.
“We also have to deal with the unintended consequence of DREAMers that are here to no fault of their own and really have a real discussion and a real debate,” Denham told radio host John Sepulvado, referencing undocumented immigrants who came to the country as young children. “Should they be able to graduate from our high schools and get a job and go to college? Or even serve in the military?”
“I’m very proud to not have only introduced the ENLIST Act a couple of times now, but it’s one that President-elect Trump has discussed in the press to allow the quickest path to citizenship, allowing our DREAMers to serve in the U.S. military,” Denham added. “I think President-elect Trump has discussed that [to fix the southern U.S. border] — not to great detail — but the discussion he’s had on the ENLIST Act and other pieces of immigration [proposals] provides me hope.”
Trump remarked in September that he was open to allowing so-called DREAMers gain legal status after undergoing careful vetting to serve in the military.
“I think that when you serve in the Armed Forces, that’s a special situation, and I could see myself working that out. Absolutely,” Trump said at the time. “If they plan on serving, if they get in, I would absolutely, for all of those people. Now, we have to be very careful, we have to vet very carefully, everybody would agree with that, but the answer is it would be a very special circumstance, yes.”
According to an Army media relations official who spoke with ThinkProgress in August, there are 780 undocumented immigrants serving in the military under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program as of June 1, 2016. That program allows people with special language skills to enlist and be fast-tracked for citizenship. Yet, every immigrant in the MAVNI program are also beneficiaries of an Obama administration executive action known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative that provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization. Trump has promised to rescind that executive action, which would leave these military assets at risk of deportation.
It remains to be seen whether Congress and Trump would look to a bill that so narrowly focuses on a small group of immigrants while at the same time, disregarding millions of other undocumented immigrants.
Yet, Denham’s position on immigration reform is one that is popular among a majority of Americans. He was one of three Republicans to visit immigrant activists who fasted in 2013 to call on Congress to move on comprehensive immigration reform. As of last year, 65 percent of Americans favored a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.