- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In his televised address Monday night, President Bush hoped to quiet the enforcement-first members in his own party by leading with border security. That’s not the same as actually addressing their concerns. We are no more encouraged now than we were Monday morning about the president’s commitment to secure the border.

The president’s plan to increase the Border Patrol by 6,000 agents by 2009; place 6,000 National Guard troops on the border in a year-long supporting role; end the “catch-and-return” policy; and fully fund better security technology and barriers is all well and good. But it’s not nearly enough. To “have full control of the border,” as Mr. Bush phrased it, would require at least four times as many agents, the building of a wall and more. We recognize the drawbacks, both symbolically and fiscally, of a wall. Yet that’s what it would mean to have “full control of the border.”

Despite the administration’s prior commitment to hire 2,000 agents every year, its fiscal 2006 budget called for only 210 agents, or 10 percent of the promised increase. More recently, Sen. Judd Gregg, chairman of the Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, has complained about how the White House has “stiff-armed” his attempts to help Border Patrol purchase better equipment. This time around, Mr. Bush must back his words with legislative action.

On the other hand, we’re quite sure Mr. Bush means what he says about amnesty — a position the White House has just recently embraced. Of course, as the president repeatedly insisted, it’s not amnesty. Call it “earned citizenship,” phrasing that no doubt works well in a focus group. But when lawbreakers are rewarded with citizenship — whether they are in the front of the line or in back — that’s amnesty.

The attempt to mask a proposal’s true nature is disingenuous, as is knocking down arguments the other side has never seriously considered. For instance, the president said that “some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every illegal immigrant — and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty.” This is a distortion of what supporters of enforcement-first have actually called for. The president continued: “There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship…and a program of mass deportation.” Yes, there is: Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies can enforce the laws. Deportation is already the punishment for those caught in the country illegally, as are sanctions against employers who hire them.

Mr. Bush did strike the right notes on a few proposals, like assimilation through English and identification cards for legal foreign workers. Yet he let slip an invaluable opportunity to give the American people what they are demanding — a secure southern border.

If Mr. Bush feels it’s fair to describe the ugly side of securing the border and law enforcement, which we don’t deny, he should at least address the even uglier side of amnesty and a guest-worker program. He didn’t and that’s unfortunate.

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