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House conservatives block modest GOP immigration proposal

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(CNN) — House conservatives on Friday blocked a narrow immigration reform measure, showing how hard it is an election year for the GOP-led chamber to make even small changes to the nation’s immigration laws.

And this proposal was from a fellow Republican.

Rep. Jeff Denham of California pushed to add his proposal that would allow young people brought into the country illegally to join the military and gain legal status to annual defense legislation.

But conservatives revolted, arguing the measure amounted to “amnesty.” They warned leaders its inclusion would jeopardize passage of the defense measure.

Although he is a co-sponsor of Denham’s bill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, a California Republican, said in a written statement that he would not include the proposal as part of the defense legislation he will unveil next month.

Pressed if he decided conservative opposition on the immigration issue would have defeated the defense bill, McKeon waved off the questions.

“I’m not going to talk any more about this right now,” he said.

Denham, who served in the U.S. Air Force with immigrants in the first Iraq war, lashed out at those in his own party who were aggressively working against his bill.

“I’m very frustrated to hear controversy from members who have never served their country and don’t understand the impact that immigrants have had on our freedoms,” Denham said.

This is the second time the California Republican has tried to tack his bill, called the “Enlist Act,” onto the must-pass defense measure only to be blocked by fellow GOP members.

The legislation would allow those who were brought illegally to the United States when they were 15 or younger to enlist in the military and gain legal status.

That status would be rescinded if the person left military service unless it was an honorable discharge.

Alabama Republican Mo Brooks argued the bill would hurt U.S. citizens.

“I don’t think it’s in Americans best interests from an economic standpoint to dramatically increase the job opportunities for illegal aliens who are competing against American citizens for those jobs,” Brooks said.

Asked about Denham’s criticism of those working against the bill, Brooks replied “that’s bunk.”

Denham is one of only three House Republicans who co-sponsored the comprehensive immigration reform bills introduced by House Democrats. His central California district includes major agricultural businesses and 40% of its population is Hispanic.

The Democratic campaign committee has put his district on its top tier target list and highlights the lack of any GOP action on immigration as the main reason why he should be replaced.

House Speaker John Boehner unveiled a set of immigration reform principles earlier this year that would have allowed legal status for those undocumented workers in the United States now.

But a majority of House GOP members said they did not want a debate on the controversial issue before the midterms and Boehner has since pulled back.

Boehner argued it was unlikely any immigration measure would pass because GOP members didn’t trust President Barack Obama.

Denham vowed he would continue to push for the bill as an amendment to the defense bill or as a standalone measure.

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