- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

President Bush’s remarks

President Bush yesterday called for sending 6,000 National Guard troops to U.S. borders to back up the Border Patrol and also said state and local police officers should be allowed to help enforce federal immigration law.

“The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building roads and providing training,” he said. “Guard units will not be involved in direct law-enforcement activities.”

But he also said new enforcement must be coupled with a guest-worker program and a way to deal with the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the country.

“All elements of this problem must be addressed together — or none of them will be solved at all,” the president said, speaking from the Oval Office in a nationally televised 17-minute address last night.

The immigration debate has been raging on Capitol Hill since December, when the House passed an enforcement-only bill. It has only intensified as millions of illegal-alien supporters marched in American cities, U.S. citizens stepped up their own patrols of the border, and the Senate began its debate on a broad strategy to legalize many illegal aliens.

Mr. Bush waded into that debate last night, following the House’s lead in emphasizing border security but also backing the Senate’s approach to current illegal aliens.

He said longtime illegal aliens should be awarded a right to citizenship while recently arrived illegal aliens should not. He did not say what the cutoff date should be, nor whether those who didn’t qualify would be deported, but he said those awarded citizenship are not getting amnesty.

“What I have just described is not amnesty. 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,” he said.

Mr. Bush insisted that those in his proposed guest-worker program would not have a path to citizenship. That sets him on a collision course with the Senate, where the major proposal would grant participants in the guest-worker program a path to citizenship.

He blamed decades of poor border and interior immigration enforcement for the problem and said fraudulent documents make it “difficult for employers to verify that the workers they hire are legal.”

But it’s not clear whether he won any new supporters among the competing factions of enforcement-only conservatives in the House and Senate Republicans who demand a path to citizenship for some illegal aliens in any final bill.

“I don’t think it moves [the debate] very much,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican and a proponent of the enforcement approach. “It demonstrated a willingness to discuss enforcement, but the commitment hasn’t been there for 5 years.”

Mr. King said a wall along the Mexico border would be far cheaper and more effective than the increases in personnel, but he said Mr. Bush does deserve credit for urging immigrants to assimilate, learn English and respect the American flag.

Meanwhile, Democrats say Mr. Bush has been missing from the debate and must repudiate the House approach.

“Unfortunately, at a time when we needed real leadership, we once again heard a political PR campaign filled with an unrealistic short-term fix, rather than a detailed long term solution,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, blasting the House bill that had the support of 36 Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada sounded a similar note, saying Mr. Bush “must stand up to right-wing members of his own party who are working to block Senate action” and should “denounce the misguided approach of House Republicans.”

Last night’s speech was intended to show that Mr. Bush is as serious about increasing border security as he has been about pushing for a guest-worker program, which he has been doing since January 2004.

In the short term, Mr. Bush said, the 6,000 National Guard troops could help build barriers, conduct surveillance and help with intelligence work on the border, while the government hires 6,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents over the next three years. He also likely helped his cause among conservatives by calling for local law enforcement to help out.

“We will give state and local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who sponsored an amendment in the Senate to provide funding for training local law enforcement, said Mr. Bush is moving in the right direction and said many local authorities would be willing to participate.

Alabama, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and California have signed training agreements with the Department of Homeland Security, as part of a program on which the federal government spends about $5 million a year. Mr. Bush wants to raise that to $50 million a year, his advisers told reporters in a briefing before the speech.

Plans for the new Border Patrol agents over the next three years would bring the total to about 18,000. Mr. Bush also proposed adding nearly 7,000 detention beds by Oct. 1, 2007, bringing the total to 27,500. He said this would end the policy of releasing non-Mexican illegal aliens into U.S. society on the usually false hope they will return to be deported.

The National Guard deployment would be paid for by rearranging money in the emergency war-spending bill now before Congress and would begin early next month. After a year, the number of Guard members would decline as new Border Patrol agents graduate from the academy.

The announcement represents a change in position for the administration, which in the past 16 months has submitted two budgets that shortchanged the commitment to hire 2,000 Border Patrol agents every year for the next five years. In his fiscal 2006 budget, for example, he called for only 210 agents, or about 10 percent of the increase promised.

And even members of his own party have said Mr. Bush has blocked increased funding for the Border Patrol, with Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, saying two months ago on the Senate floor that the administration “stiff-armed” his attempts to help the Border Patrol buy more equipment and technology.

The administration has also apparently changed its mind about how many agents can be trained every year. Officials had told Congress that the most they could train was 1,500 a year, but Mr. Bush’s new plan calls for training 2,500 in fiscal 2007, which begins in October, and 3,000 in fiscal 2008.

Senate Republicans were generally supportive of Mr. Bush’s performance, saying he showed an understanding of all parts of the debate and praising him for making the National Guard a temporary solution.

For his part, Mr. Cornyn, said he is now open to an approach that allows some illegal aliens to apply for a guest-worker program without having to return to their home countries.

“Where you draw that line is a matter of some good-faith debate,” he said. “I’m not yet willing to draw that line, but I’m willing to acknowledge there may be a category of individuals that might not have to participate in a mandatory departure requirement.”

House Republican leaders last night praised Mr. Bush for showing he understands the need for enforcement, but said they still oppose his guest-worker and citizenship plans.

“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,” said Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

Mexican President Vicente Fox called Mr. Bush over the weekend to say he was worried Mr. Bush was ready to militarize the U.S. side of the border — and Mr. Bush specified in his speech that “the United States is not going to militarize the southern border.”

The Mexican government said Mr. Fox was pleased to hear that Mr. Bush did not want U.S. troops actually enforcing the laws and that Mr. Bush was also planning to call for a right to citizenship for many illegal aliens.

Mexicans at the border who were planning to cross illegally said Mr. Bush’s plan wouldn’t stop them, the Associated Press reported.

“No guard, no wall will keep us from crossing,” said Jorge Gutierrez.

And Democrats said Mr. Bush was trying to do border security on the cheap by shifting the burden to the already-stretched National Guard.

“We must not shift the burden from this lack of homeland-security planning to our nation’s military,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Several of the nation’s governors hit a skeptical note to the National Guard proposal yesterday, with border state leaders calling it a temporary fix and governors elsewhere hostile to losing control over their state forces.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Republican, called it “a Band-Aid solution and not the permanent solution we need,” and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, called it “a stopgap measure that will have little practical effect.”

Democratic Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski of Oregon said his state needs its Guard to fight forest fires and derided the Bush plan as a political gesture that “is lousy policy.”


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