Bush expected to order National Guard troops to defend border
- Bush expected to order National Guard troops to defend border
By Ron Hutcheson and Drew Brown Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - President Bush is expected to announce plans Monday to send
thousands of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help stop
Details were still being cobbled together Friday night, but administration
officials said Bush was considering deploying at least several thousand
troops to help beef up border security. The president will outline his plans
Monday night in a TV address.
"We are looking at a range of options," a senior administration official
said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The speech is timed to influence Senate debate next week on legislation to
overhaul immigration laws. Bush is intent on winning a comprehensive bill
that includes border protection, a new guest-worker program and a means for
some of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already in the
United States to gain temporary status as legal workers, with some
eventually able to apply for citizenship.
The senior administration official said Bush would propose ways to plug
security gaps until thousands of new Border Patrol agents can be hired and
The White House plan is to use National Guard troops, contract workers or
local law-enforcement officials in support jobs so that Border Patrol agents
can focus on catching illegal immigrants, the official said.
The official stressed that active-duty troops would not be deployed to the
border and that the National Guard units could provide surveillance,
transportation and construction of infrastructure such as berms, fencing and
other border barriers.
The White House is asking major television networks for live coverage of the
15- to 20-minute speech at 5 p.m. PDT Monday. But given that this is the
middle of the May "sweeps" ratings period, two of the big-four networks had
not committed to covering the speech, which will occur during prime time in
Fox and NBC have agreed to carry the speech.
CBS said it was considering carrying the address; ABC said it would decide
Cable news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC expected to carry the speech. The
Defense Department also would be directed to use some of its assets -
including aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and sophisticated
monitoring devices - to enhance surveillance along the nearly 2,000-mile
The official disputed speculation that Bush would call for the deployment of
"The numbers are fluid right now. It will be in the thousands, but not that
high," the official said. "There's a lot of different ways they can help
without having to do the actual apprehension."
A Pentagon official confirmed the military had been asked to begin drawing
up options for the use of National Guard troops. But the official said
neither the scope of the mission nor the number of troops had been defined.
The debate over immigration has spurred massive national rallies of
immigrants complaining that Congress is threatening sanctions against
workers who represent a significant share of the U.S. economy, and it has
also spurred such protests as one Friday in Washington, D.C., by an
anti-immigration group known as the Minuteman Project. Capitol Police
intervened as activists from both sides confronted each other with emotional
slogans and signs.
According to the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., National Guard
troops have been used on the border with Mexico in recent years primarily
for anti-drug missions.
The use of troops on the border is a sensitive issue for a variety of
Federal law prohibits the military from performing law-enforcement duties.
Critics of the idea worry that putting armed troops on the border increases
the risk of violent confrontations with heavily armed drug traffickers or
with immigrants. Some military units already help with border surveillance.
In 1997, a U.S. Marine patrol assisting with border surveillance near
Redford, Texas, shot and killed Ezequiel Hernandez, 18, a goat herder. The
Marines said Hernandez fired at them, and the corporal who pulled the
trigger wasn't charged with a crime.
For Mexico, the presence of U.S. troops could evoke memories of the U.S.
Army's incursions into Mexico from 1916-19, when Gen. John Pershing's troops
and other U.S. military units roamed the country in search of Pancho Villa,
the Mexican revolutionary and bandit.
Asked for comment, Carolina Diaz, the director of international information
for Mexican President Vicente Fox, said: "President Fox ... will wait until
Monday to see exactly what President Bush proposes. Until then, there won't
be any official comment."
Some U.S. officials questioned the wisdom of giving another assignment to
National Guard units that have been stretched thin by repeated deployments
National Guard troops normally serve under the command of state governors,
but the president can press them into federal service when needed. Since the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, hundreds of thousands of National Guard personnel
have been activated for duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and in homeland-security
"The Bush administration and the federal government should put up the money
to create the kind of protection that the federal government is responsible
to provide, not use our National Guard soldiers that are coming back from
Iraq," said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
And New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, said he was concerned that
the administration has not consulted with him or other governors of border
states. "While the immediate deployment of troops may create a short-term
fix, it creates further problems and concerns regarding our National Guard
troops who may be called upon to respond to other emergencies and natural
disasters," he said.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, called the National Guard proposal "cheap
political theater" in an interview with CNN.
But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of Senate subcommittees that oversee
immigration and border security, said the staffing and equipment that the
National Guard could offer are needed immediately.
"The truth is, we must use all available federal assets to secure our
borders," Cornyn said.
The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on its version of the immigration
bill starting Monday.
The Senate bill would increase border security and establish a guest-worker
program allowing participants to work toward citizenship. It would also give
most of the nation's illegal immigrants a way to earn citizenship, based on
the length of their stay in the United States.
Many House Republicans oppose the Senate bill and support House legislation,
approved in December, that focuses solely on border security and
immigration-law enforcement. It would require construction of a 700-mile
wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and make illegal presence in the United
States a felony.
Material from the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, The Washington
Post and the Seattle Times archive is included in this report.
Copyright 2006 The Seattle Times Company
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