WASHINGTON – In a prime time address to the nation Monday night, President Bush will acknowledge that U.S. Border Patrol does "not yet have full control of the border" and call on Congress to provide the funding to do so.
"Since I became president, we have increased funding for border security by 66 percent, and expanded the Border Patrol from about 9,000 to 12,000 agents. ... We have apprehended and sent home about 6 million people entering America illegally," the president will say, according to excerpts released late Monday.
"Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that. Tonight I am calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border," the president will say.
Watch President Bush's prime time address Monday night at 8 p.m. EDT on FOX News Channel.
Though no specific mention of the National Guard plan is included in excerpts of a speech, White House aides said earlier Monday that the president will call for fewer than 10,000 National Guard troops to head to the Mexican border to play a supportive role to the Border Patrol trying to stop a flood of illegal immigrants from the south.
The temporary plan will allow "a very small percentage" — about 2 percent — of the 400,000 National Guard members to go to the border area over the next 12 to 18 months. The Guardsmen will play a backup role, and not carry out law enforcement duties.
"They will not have law enforcement powers in and of itself but they will help building infrastructure, surveillance, and those things, so it's not necessarily a militarization of the border, but what it is, is filling an immediate need to free up more border patrol agents so they can do the arresting and detention there on the spot," Dan Bartlett, White House presidential counselor, told FOX News.
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."
In an unusual move, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois will offer a "Democratic response" to the president's remarks following Bush's speech. He is to say that border security alone is not the answer to the problem of illegal immigration.
"Real immigration reform begins with enforcement at the border and in the workplace. But it does not end with enforcement. During the last decade, we doubled the number of Border Patrol agents — and illegal immigration also doubled. We need a comprehensive, tough but fair approach," he will say, according to remarks released ahead of delivery.
Bush will say 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.
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.
Multiple Paths to Immigration Reform
White House Assistant Communications Director Nicole Wallace told FOX News that the president's speech will likely to get to the heart of most Americans' concerns.
"I certainly can understand people wanting to see real results, and I think what were going to hear tonight is a very serious, very specific and very aggressive" proposal, Wallace said.
She added: "There's been a lot of attention on the Guard and what they might do on the border. It's important to keep that in perspective ... that is envisioned as a temporary stopgap measure" to be buttressed by strategic initiatives that include "moving extraordinary amounts of high technology" and offering solutions to help employers in the country enforce existing laws.
In his remarks, Bush will focus not only on new immigration reforms, but also on enforcing existing laws.
"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," Bush will say.
"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."
Previewing his response, Durbin, who was also to take questions from reporters in the Senate press gallery, will say that all Americans agree the immigration system must be fixed and borders secured.
"But we don't need a military solution to break a political stalemate. We need political leadership. ... 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 will say.
Durbin will also ask whether governors will have the authority to call back National Guardsmen from their states in times of emergency, and what the timeline will be for replacing them with trained Border Patrol agents.
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.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who's managing the immigration reform bill on the floor, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn, is committed to making sure votes on those amendments will run on a "rigorously enforced" 15-minute vote schedule.
Frist is set on getting a final vote on the Senate bill by the middle of next week, Specter said.
Lawmakers, however, are already coming up with proposals to alter the plan. 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."
Specter 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 was also saying 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."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., argued that aside from the current number of illegals living in the Untied 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.
But sending National Guard to the border is not the solution to stopping illegal immigration, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. She said that in his speech Monday night, the president must also "embrace real border security with expanded border patrol levels, family reunification, strong labor protections for all workers to prevent any exploitation, and a pathway to earned legalization and citizenship with tough requirements of paying fines and back taxes, being employed, and learning English."
Pelosi also blamed House Republicans for refusing to fund fully the Border Patrol budget and mean-spiritedness in their effort to criminalize illegal immigrants in the House immigration reform bill that passed in December. House Democrats rejected an amendment that would have removed that penalty from the House bill.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said he is willing to consider the president's proposal to put National Guardsmen at the border.
"I believe in strong border security," Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor, adding that if the National Guard can be logically placed on the border and the money can be found to finance it, "I'll go along with that."
In addition, Reid said Bush must also "publicly denounce" a House-passed bill that makes illegal immigrants subject to prosecution as felons and calls for construction of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.
The president's base may not be impressed by what they hear, said former Bush speechwriter David Frum. Frum said Americans don't understand the scale of the problem. One in five people born in Mexico already live in the United States, he said, and the president's policies will do nothing to curb a future exodus from that nation.
"This is a policy that is not only going to fail but it is designed to fail," Frum said of the National Guard basing proposal. "It is an incredibly expensive policy that will not succeed ... What you need to do is enforce the laws inside the borders and that's what the president won't do.
"Right now the policy is 'Ollie ollie oxen free,'" Frum said.