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New York Times

WASHINGTON - A push to give legal status to young undocumented immigrants who serve in the military is roiling the immigration debate in the House, dividing Republicans and reviving some movement toward immigration legislation this year.

Republican advocates of loosening immigration laws are moving to attach the measure to the annual defense policy bill. It would offer a path to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who came to the country before age 15 and enlist in the military. But they are running into vociferous opposition from hard-line opponents. "It is very frustrating to hear controversy from members who have never served their country and don't understand the impact that immigrants have had on our freedoms," said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., an Air Force veteran and a sponsor of the amendment.

"That's bunk. Next question," snapped Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., one of those opponents.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shelved immigration legislation in February, in large part to keep the contentious issue from publicly dividing his party in an election year and inflaming Latino and immigrant voters.

But the issue roared back this week when opponents of the overhaul went public with their efforts to thwart the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act, or Enlist Act. The bill is a more modest version of the Dream Act, which would offer citizenship to young illegal immigrants through a variety of pathways, including military service and college education.

The House Armed Services Committee is expected to draft the defense bill in early May for floor action the week of May 19. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., the committee chairman, said on Friday that he will not offer the Enlist Act as an amendment in the committee.

But Denham expects the measure to be offered as an amendment on the House floor. That would trigger the kind of public fight Boehner had hoped to avoid.

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