U.S. military veterans have urged Congress to focus on immigration as lawmakers debate the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

"Veterans are a key demographic in America, and throughout our history, the military has reflected the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. They are also a group disproportionately impacted by the current broken immigration system," the letter by Veterans for Immigration Reform stated.

The letter noted more than 65,000 immigrants, including 30,000 permanent lawful residents, were part of active military duty in 2013, which equates to 5 percent of the force.

"Veterans for Immigration Reform support fixing our broken immigration system and passing broad immigration reform. Immigration reform would keep the pool of potential service members as broad as possible by including the millions of young undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children."

"[Immigration reform] would also support veterans by ensuring that our service members have the support of family when they return home from the battlefield. This is the right thing to do for our national security, the future of our military, our veterans and our nation."

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The letter continued, signed by veterans from Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia. U.S. State Rep. Mark Cardenas and Richard Andrade of Arizona also signed the letter -- both have served in the U.S. military.

The veterans are championing two amendments.

The first amendment, from Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., calls for the Pentagon to consider the recruitment of young immigrants who are recipients of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by President Barack Obama, through executive action, in 2012.

The second amendment is from Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. His amendment would add provisions of his ENLIST Act, which would allow immigrants to serve in the military and gain legal status.

"There are young men and women who were brought here as children, who call America home, and want to serve in the uniform of our Armed Forces and defend our nation. These amendments shouldn't invite controversy, but once again extreme Tea Party Republicans are doing everything they can to whip up their base by attacking immigrants," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., during a press conference

He continued, "Immigration has always strengthened our country -- and enhanced our national security. Last week we marked the 70th anniversary of victory in Europe during World War II, and many who served our country in that conflict were still earning their citizenship. One of them was my father, an immigrant from Denmark who gained his U.S. citizenship after serving his new country during that war."


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