Bush to Send Up to 6,000 Troops to Border
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer 3 minutes
WASHINGTON - President Bush, trying to build support
for a major overhaul of the nation's tattered
immigration laws, said Monday night he would order as
many as 6,000 National Guard troops to secure the U.S.
border with Mexico and urged Congress to give millions
of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship.
"We do not yet have full control of the border and I
am determined to change that," the president said in a
17-minute prime-time address from the Oval Office.
Bush gave strong support to a plan that would give
many of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the
United States an eventual path to possible citizenship
a move derided by some conservatives in his own
Republican Party as amnesty. He rejected that term.
"It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions
of people, many with deep roots in the United States
and send them across the border," he said. "There is a
rational middle ground between granting an automatic
path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a
program of mass deportation."
The Guard troops would mostly serve two-week stints
before rotating out of the assignment, so keeping the
force level at 6,000 over the course of a year could
require up to 156,000 troops.
Still, Bush insisted, "The United States is not going
to militarize the southern border."
The White House wouldn't say how much the deployments
would cost, but said the troops would paid for as part
of $1.9 billion being requested from Congress to
supplement border enforcement this year.
The president timed his speech hours after the Senate
began intense debate on an immigration bill that has
been getting increasing attention in a year when all
House seats and one-third of Senate seats are up for
election. The rare televised, prime-time Oval Office
address signified the high stakes for Bush, who has
been asking for an immigration overhaul since his the
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., indicated Bush
may have some trouble getting some conservatives on
board with his overall plan.
"While I appreciate the president's willingness to
tackle big problems, I have real concerns about moving
forward with a guest worker program or a plan to
address those currently in the United States illegally
until we have adequately addressed our serious border
security problems," Blunt said.
Bush said the National Guard troops would fill in
temporarily while the nation's Border Patrol force is
expanded. He asked Congress to add 6,000 more Border
Patrol agents by the end of his presidency and to add
6,700 more beds so illegal immigrants can be detained
while waiting for hearings to determine that they can
be sent home.
For many years, the government has not had enough
detention space to hold illegal immigrants, so they
were released into society and most did not return for
their court date. "This practice, called catch and
release, is unacceptable and we will end it," Bush
The Border Patrol would remain responsible for
catching and detaining illegal immigrants, with
National Guard troops providing intelligence
gathering, surveillance and other administrative
support. Yet the National Guard troops would still be
armed and authorized to use force to protect
themselves, said Bush homeland security adviser Fran
They are to come from the four border states
California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas but those
states' governors may also seek Guard troops from
other states. Reaction was mixed among the nation's
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said troops
might provide short-term relief but he did not believe
border protection was an appropriate role for the
National Guard. California has thousands of Guard
Iraq and might need them in case of earthquakes,
floods or other emergencies, he said.
"So if you have 6,000 in Iraq and send another 6,000
to the border, what do we have left?" Schwarzenegger
But another Republican border state governor, Rick
Perry of Texas, said he was glad the administration
had decided the Guard had a role to play along the
border. "We have the ability to multitask," Perry
The White House hopes deployments to the border will
begin in early June.
Many congressional Republicans said they supported
Bush's plan to use National Guard troops at the
border. But he ran into criticism from Democrats and
some other Republicans.
"Democrats are willing to support any reasonable plan
that will secure our borders, including deploying
National Guard troops," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
"But Americans don't want a plan that's been cobbled
together to win political favor. This cannot turn into
another long-term military deployment with no clear
Bush said the nation has more than doubled the size of
the Border Patrol during his presidency and has sent
home about 6 million people entering the United States
illegally. Still, he said, that has not been enough.
"For decades, the United States has not been in
complete control of its borders," the president said.
"As a result, many who want to work in our economy
have been able to sneak across our border, and
millions have stayed."
He called for enactment of a guest worker program to
allow immigrants to take low-paying jobs, and he said
employers must be held to account for hiring illegal
immigrants. He said that a tamperproof identification
card for workers would "leave employers with no
excuse" for violating the law.
And he stressed that those who want to earn
citizenship should have to assimilate into society,
learn English, pay fines for breaking the law and pay
"What I have just described is not amnesty," Bush
said. "It is a way for those who have broken the law
to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the
character that makes a good citizen."
The president's call for tougher border security is
part of a broader plan to overhaul a system that he
has described as inhumane, with desperate foreigners
risking their lives for a chance to earn U.S. wages.
The issue raises emotions on all sides, with many
Americans and influential conservatives in Congress
angry that foreigners are taking jobs and draining
resources across the country.
The White House hopes that the tougher security will
be enough to get House conservatives to support the
work permits and citizenship proposals that they have
been opposed to. A bill that passed the House last
year ignored those ideas and instead would increase
criminal penalties for illegal immigrants and
construct 700 miles of fencing.
Bush addressed some of his comments to lawmakers,
calling on the Senate to act by the end of the month
so a compromise can be reached with the House. "I want
to speak directly to Members of the House and the
Senate: An immigration reform bill needs to be
comprehensive, because all elements of this problem
must be addressed together, or none of them will be
solved at all."