WASHINGTON – Reactions were quick but few positions were likely to change Tuesday in the wake of a nationally televised speech in which President Bush called for up to 6,000 National Guard troops to be deployed to the southern U.S. border and for Congress to pass a guest worker plan.
"I support everything the president said ... His speech covered all the critical issues that are part of this problem; bringing law enforcement to our borders. I was especially pleased he used the Senate bill as a model for comprehensive immigration reform," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., co-author of compromise immigration reform legislation now being debated in the Senate.
"A few steps, including calling out the National Guard, significant though they may be, will not change the pervasive illegality of our current immigration system to one that works. And the American people know it. Quite apart from the need to deal fairly and generously with the 11 million that have come and lived here for a significant period, we must confront the continued flow of more illegals into the country," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a supporter of securing borders first and then dealing with illegals inside the country.
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."
According to the White House plan, the Guardsmen 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.
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. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said he intends to call a hearing on the National Guard deployment "at the earliest possible opportunity."
In a press conference after the president's remarks, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois 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."
"Democrats are willing to support any reasonable plan that will secure our borders, including the deployment of National Guard troops. 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 plan," Durbin said.
This is not the answer that Americans were looking for when they asked for more security on our nation's borders. It's just another instance of robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Homeland Security Committee ranking Democrat Bennie Thompson, adding that last year the president requested only 210 new Border Patrol agents. "Tasking an already strained National Guard with border security responsibilities is like putting a band-aid on someone who needs heart surgery."
The president will follow up his speech by visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in Yuma, Ariz., on Thursday.
In addition, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar and Julie Myers, assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement, will hold a press conference Tuesday to discuss efforts to end the "catch and release" method of detaining illegals caught in the U.S.
In his address, Bush said he will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority to end "catch and release" in which arrested illegals are processed and let go on the promise they will return for a court appearance at a later date.
"We have expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will continue to add more. We have expedited the legal process to cut the average deportation time. And we are making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws," Bush said.
Myers announced Monday that DHS 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.
But Bush is unlikely to win many political points from his base after Monday night's speech.
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 the president also went to great length to support a guest worker plan now being debated in the Senate. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act 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.
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."
Opponents of the compromise say the guest worker program, which would allow illegals who have been in the United States the longest the easiest pathway to legality, is nothing more than amnesty.
In his speech, Bush said he opposes amnesty, but the country cannot ignore the facts.
"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," Bush said.
Bush 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.
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.
"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."
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.
Bush also won support from other quarters, including the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and Western Growers Association. He earned no kudos from conservative groups.
"Conservatives are tuning the president out. President Bush's insistence on a guest worker/amnesty program, without first actually securing our borders, explains a lot about why he has about a 30 percent approval rating in the polls. He's become politically tone deaf," said Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supports a guest worker plan, offered mixed support to the president.
"Border state governors were not consulted about this proposal in advance and there are many outstanding questions about the impact of the president's proposal on Californians. ... I am concerned asking National Guard troops to guard our nation's border is a Band-Aid solution and not the permanent solution we need," Schwarzenegger said.
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."
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, D-Nev., 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.
FOX News' Carl Cameron, Molly Hooper, Trish Turner and Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.