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GOP-led Congress votes down measure to bar immigrants from military

The measure would have prevented young people who were brought into the United States illegally as children from enlisting in the military.

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Immigration activists demonstrate at the Supreme Court in Washington in support of President Obama's executive order to grant relief from deportation in order to keep immigrant families together, in March.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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The Republican-led US House of Representatives voted down an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would have prevented illegal immigrants from enlisting.

The attempt was defeated by a razor thin margin of 211-210. Critics of the proposed amendment say that all those who wish to serve the United States through service in its armed forces should be allowed to do so.

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"We shouldn't let anti-immigrant, partisan posturing stand in the way of our military recruitment goals," said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D) of Arizona. "Our armed forces need the best and brightest soldiers, Marines and airmen they can get, and these young people want nothing more than to serve the country they call home."

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Paul Gosar of (R) Arizona, who says that 141 young people who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have used that program to join the military.

Under the auspices of DACA, young people who were brought to the United States as children cannot be deported. They are also eligible for work permits that allow them to gain employment in the United States. These permits are renewable every two years.

Two years ago, the Pentagon opened enlistment to DACA beneficiaries after first investigating a trial program for legal immigrants with unique skill sets.

Just weeks ago, the House Armed Services Committee approved the ability of the Secretary of Defense to allow all immigrants to enlist if it serves the national interest.

Representative Gosar called this program a “backdoor amnesty program,” saying that it was never intended to benefit "illegal aliens."

If DACA enlistees serve in a combat zone for at least one day, they can gain citizenship.

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"The president has relentlessly amended immigration law by executive fiat and executive edict,” said Iowa Representative Steve King (R). “And this is another time.”

"Your patriotism is more important than your papers," said Representative Gallego of a separate amendment that would have barred the Pentagon from using money to enlist illegal immigrants. That amendment also failed.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.