WASHINGTON – Saying the United States is not militarizing its southern border, President Bush announced Monday night that he is sending up to 6,000 National Guard troops to shore up U.S. Border Patrol efforts to stop the flow of illegal immigrants pouring in from Mexico.
Bush said that the Guardsmen will not serve in a law enforcement capacity, but as assistance to the Border Patrol.
"The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads and providing training," Bush said in a speech from the Oval Office.
"This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online.
In a prime time televised address to the nation, Bush acknowledged that U.S. Border Patrol does "not yet have full control of the border" and called on Congress to provide the funding to do so. He also said the United States will also stop its "catch and release" method of arresting illegal aliens and then freeing them to show up at a court date set for the future.
"I will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority, so we can end 'catch and release' at the southern border once and for all. When people know that they will be caught and sent home if they enter our country illegally, they will be less likely to try to sneak in," he said.
In more on the spending side of the ledger, the president announced that the federal government would seek to increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the Border Patrol "on targeted enforcement missions."
"We will give state and local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants. State and local law enforcement officials are an important resource and they are part of our strategy to secure our border communities," he said.
Hearing the proposal, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner said he intends to call a hearing on the National Guard deployment "at the earliest possible opportunity."
Added Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter: "On the possible use of the National Guard, we will have to legislate carefully to circumscribe the Guards' duties so we don't get them involved in law enforcement or activities which are inappropriate."
The president noted that by the end of his presidency, he will have doubled the size of the Border Patrol to 12,000. His administration will also have launched "the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history" through high-tech fences in urban corridors, new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas, motion sensors, infrared cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles.
But Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, in an unusual "Democratic response" to the president's remarks following Bush's speech, said the president has shortchanged the budget each year to build the number of Border Patrol agents. He added that the president is now "supplementing what should have been permanent, professional Border Patrol agents with National Guardsman."
"The president's plan will deploy a total of 150,000 National Guard troops along the Mexican border over the next two years," Durbin said. "We tried to do a calculation but moving 6,000 in and out of the border, 6,000 National Guardsmen in and out of the border every two or three weeks will involve over 100,000 Guardsman in the first year.
"Democrats are willing to support any reasonable plan that will secure our borders, including deploying National Guard troops. But this cannot turn into another military deployment with no clear plan. Democrats believe that any deployment of troops on our border must be short-term, with clear start and end dates," Durbin said. The senator also asked whether governors will have the authority to call back National Guardsmen from their states in times of emergency.
White House officials say the decision to send the Guardsmen south was made in consultation with the Department of Defense, and it will not detract from the overall War on Terror.
Separately, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced Monday that it would expand the "Expedited Removal" process to deport illegal alien families apprehended in areas along the nation's borders. A new 500-bed facility was opened Monday in Williamson County, Texas, to house illegal alien families together.
"By expanding Expedited Removal to cover illegal alien families, DHS is closing down a loophole that has been exploited by human smugglers and helping stop future illegal immigration," said Julie Myers, Assistant Secretary for ICE.
"This new facility enables us to have deterrence with dignity by allowing families to remain together, while sending the clear message that families entering the United States illegally will be returned home," she said.
Bush said in his speech that the United States has a mission, but one that requires a dual approach that is both inviting and orderly, and one that acknowledges that real lives are affected by the debate.
"We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We are also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways," Bush will say. "These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair."
The president will follow up his speech by visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in Yuma, Ariz., on Thursday.
Bush said that because of the attractiveness of the U.S. lifestyle and economy, millions of people will do whatever it takes to get into America. As a result, a legal system of providing guest worker passes should be enhanced.
"I support a temporary worker program that would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way, for a limited period of time. This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks. And temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay," he said.
The president said the guest worker plan would "reduce the appeal of human smugglers and make it less likely that people would risk their lives to cross the border. It would ease the financial burden on state and local governments, by replacing illegal workers with lawful taxpayers. And above all, a temporary worker program would add to our security by making certain we know who is in our country and why they are here."
But he also noted that those who do decide to come to the United States should learn English to become fully integrated.
"English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery, from cleaning offices to running offices, from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own," Bush said.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks
Bush was speaking on the same day Senate lawmakers hunkered down to begin an estimated week-and-a-half long debate on an illegal immigration reform package that supporters say has plenty of border security provisions, but must also include a guest worker plan.
"There was a time when oceans and borders protected us and enabled us to better control immigration. That is no longer the case today. In the past decade, we have spent more than $20 billion to triple our border patrols and build fences," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., at the start of debate.
"But we have learned that border enforcement alone will not work. Just building fences and putting more agents on the border is doomed to fail. It is a strategy that will make us weaker, not stronger, in dealing with immigration," he said.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act that lawmakers are debating creates a system of penalties for foreign-born residents who entered the country illegally. But it also allows those 11 million to 12 million individuals in the United States to register their presence here and get on a path to eventual citizenship.
After being stalled over changes to a compromise bill that had been worked out before the Easter recess last month, party leaders have agreed to allow 30 amendments to be offered on the bill.
Specter, R-Pa., who is managing the immigration reform bill on the Senate floor, argued that the program is not amnesty. "That means a pardon of those who have broken the law. These immigrants will have to pay a fine, undergo rigorous criminal background checks," he said. In addition, they will have to learn English and have held a job for six years.
"They will then be at the end of the line" to acquire citizenship, Specter said.
In his speech, Bush said he opposes amnesty. "We must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully — and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration.
"I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law -- to pay their taxes, to learn English and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship -- but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law," Bush said.
Early reaction from aides to conservative lawmakers opposed to the Senate bill told FOX News that the president's speech, while a good start, does nothing to change the minds of lawmakers, most particularly on any kind legalization of illegal immigrants already in the United States. "Amnesty is amnesty," one senior Republican aide said of the president's argument.
A senior Senate Republican leadership aide told FOX News that the emphasis on border security in the last couple off days before the president's speech was a hopeful sign but the speech did not match expectations.
The president has a lot more work to do to quell the revolt on this right, the aide said.
Asked if minds were changed, a senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the audience was not the Senate. "But it was not designed for that. He is starting a conversation with the House, the base, and the general public instead," the aide said.
Frist, himself, issued a statement saying he was pleased with the president's remarks.
"As I've maintained from the beginning of this debate, secure borders must be the cornerstone of any comprehensive immigration reform plan. In the last eight months, the Senate has approved nearly $12 billion to bolster security along our borders, hire additional Border Patrol agents and increase the number of detention beds," Frist said.
But lawmakers are already coming up with proposals to alter the Senate compromise. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of several lawmakers who call the guest worker plan and path to citizenship an "amnesty" proposal say the bill cannot stand as it is.
"The national security demands that we know who is living within our borders, especially since 9/11. So we must reform our immigration laws in order to bring millions out of shadows and within that law. But the success cannot be measured by those who get legal status," Cornyn said. "The current bill without any amendment rewards criminal behavior and will undermine the government's ability to enforce immigration laws."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., argued that aside from the current number of illegals living in the United States, the 617-page Senate bill, as it stands now, "would permit up to 217.1 million new legal immigrants into the United States over the next 20 years, a number equal to 66 percent of the total current population of the United States."
That's more than twice the number estimated by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, which released a report Monday that said if enacted, the immigration reform bill now up for debate in the Senate would allow "an estimated 103 million persons to legally immigrate to the U.S. over the next 20 years — fully one-third of the current population of the United States."
Sessions told FOX News that if the law passes, the number of immigrants that could legally enter the country "would increase by fivefold and could be far more than that ... and that has a tremendous impact, really. These will be almost an entitlement to enter the country.
"Two hundred million would be 10 times the current legal rate. One hundred million, which is what the (Heritage) Foundation said they expect to be able to enter, would be five times the current rate. That's the 100 million rate. That's 25 percent of (U.S. residents) 20 years from now would be foreign born," Sessions said.
In a case of odd bedfellows, Sessions' claims have also drawn concerns among environmental activists and population control supporters who say significant damage has already been done to southern border deserts and wetlands as a result of thousands of people trampling through the region each day. On top of that, more people means more greenhouse gasses and more consumption of natural resources.
"Population is the single greatest threat to diversity on this planet and also the single greatest problem when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and resource utilization," said Paul Watson, president of the Sea Shephard Conservation Society.
In his remarks, Bush focused not only on new immigration reforms, but also on enforcing existing laws. Many of those laws are aimed at employers, not just laborers.
"We need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire. It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country illegally. Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees, because of the widespread problem of document fraud. Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility," he said.
"A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law and leave employers with no excuse for violating it. And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally in the first place."
The task of settling differences between the Senate and House bill could be the biggest barrier to reform. The House bill emphasizes border security and calls for construction of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border. It also makes no guest worker provision. Signaling that House Republicans have not changed their position, Majority Leader John Boehner said he will wait and see what comes out of the Senate.
"House Republicans have responded to the concerns of the American people by passing a strong border security bill that reflects our commitment to re-establishing basic respect for our immigration laws and sealing our border against illegal entry," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "If the Senate passes an immigration bill, I'm committed to working with Chairman Sensenbrenner and House Republicans to ensure we make border security our first priority and meet our commitments to the American people."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said he is willing to consider the president's proposal to put National Guardsmen at the border, but Bush now "must stand up to right-wing members of his own party who are working to block Senate action. He should denounce the misguided approach of House Republicans and exercise his leadership to get the job done."
Bush spoke directly to lawmakers by saying that they must work together to find a compromise between the widely divergent House and Senate versions.
"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. The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the differences between the two bills, and Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law," Bush said.