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Bush plans immigration speech as debate heats up

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) President George W Bush will push for a broad overhaul of US immigration laws in a prime-time address on Monday that comes after weeks of nationwide rallies and a revived Senate effort to pass a bill.

The White House announced the Oval office address as a Defense Department official said the Pentagon was considering options for possibly sending troops or equipment to help with security on the US-Mexican border.

Bush backs a guest-worker program that would let immigrants work temporarily in the United States, which has cost him support among some conservatives. As part of what he calls a comprehensive approach to immigration, he is also pushing measures to tighten border security.

The White House is asking major television networks to carry the Oval Office speech live at 0530 hrs Ist. ''The president will be laying out his comprehensive proposal for immigration reform,'' White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

The immigration issue has been a tough one for Bush, whose popularity tumbled to a new low of 29 per cent in a Harris poll today in the Wall Street Journal online.

The debate has galvanized millions of immigrants and their supporters to join rallies and boycotts across the country supporting Senate legislation that would give illegal immigrants a chance to earn legal status. There are an estimated 11 million to 12 million people in the United States illegally.

But conservative anger at the guest-worker idea helped fuel an erosion of support from the president's Republican base. Some conservatives view the program as a type of amnesty for illegal immigrants -- a characterization Bush rejects.

''Immigration is a divisive issue for Republicans,'' said Stephen Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University. ''The president doesn't seem to be able to win by it (the issue), but he's got to try to minimize his losses.'' Wayne said business groups favor the guest-worker idea, but many Republicans want to emphasize border enforcement.

Bush had also hoped a guest-worker plan would help Republican efforts to court Hispanic voters.

The Senate yesterday reached an agreement to try to reconsider a broad immigration measure -- with guest-worker and border-security provisions -- after reaching a deadlock earlier.

The House of Representatives passed an immigration bill earlier that would crack down on border security and make it a felony to be in the United States illegally, and it lacked a guest-worker program.

The two bills would need to be merged.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has begun considering possible ways to use American military personnel or equipment in the border security effort, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mexico and the United States share a 3,219 km border.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met at the Pentagon with his Mexican counterpart, Defense Minister Gen. Gerardo Clemente Ricardo Vega, with border issues on the agenda.

''The US and Mexican governments continue to work together to control the border and collaborate on these important efforts. This cooperation includes limited US assistance with training, equipping and funding Mexico security forces so that they can better meet our shared challenges in protecting the border,'' said US Navy Lt. Cmdr J D Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.

REUTERS PG PM

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