Bush plans to put National Guards on Mexico border
WASHINGTON, May 15 (Reuters) US President George W Bush was set today to announce plans to deploy more than 5,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border to support efforts to catch illegal immigrants because ''we do not yet have full control of the border.'' ''Tonight I am calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border,'' Bush planned to say in an 0530 hrs Ist Oval Office address.
Bush was trying to placate conservatives who are demanding a tougher border enforcement policy. But to their chagrin, he also insisted on a temporary guest-worker program for illegal immigrants that would let them fill jobs Americans refuse.
In speech excerpts released by the White House, Bush said border enforcement will not solve the problem alone because many people will do anything to get to America, walking across deserts or hiding in the back of trucks.
''This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop,'' he said. ''To secure the border effectively we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across.'' White House officials described the National Guard deployment as temporary and said the troops would not be involved in law enforcement. Some members of the US Congress feared the National uard, with 17,000 in Iraq, will be stretched too thin, and Mexico worried about militarizing the border with armed soldiers.
A senior U.S. official said Bush planned to announce the deployment of more than 5,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexican border.
White House officials said the troops would provide logistic support for U.S. Border Patrol agents whose job is to arrest illegal immigrants crossing into the states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
The troops' work would include mobile communications, intelligence analysis, logistics and training, a senior defense official said.
INFLUENCING DEBATE Bush said since he became president in early 2001 the US Border Patrol has been expanded and 6 million people have been sent home after trying to enter the country illegally.
''Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that,'' he said.
Bush was hoping to influence a Senate debate this week on a sweeping immigration overhaul that would couple tougher border enforcement with a temporary guest-worker plan and create a mechanism for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country to legalize their status.
And he was hoping to sway Republicans in the House of Representatives who passed a tough border security bill that would further criminalise illegal presence in the United States. They are adamantly resisting the guest-worker programme.
Bush's backing for the proposed law is costing him support among some conservatives who view it as a type of amnesty for illegal immigrants -- a characterisation Bush rejected.
''We must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here,'' he said in the excerpts. ''They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it.'' Bush also said newcomers have a duty to assimilate into American society by learning English and U.S. history.
OVERSTRETCHED MILITARY Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told CNN that Bush was late to the border enforcement debate, ''so now, coming forward at this time, we're a little suspect.'' The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a citizens' volunteer border patrol group, called Bush's plan ''nothing more than a political ploy.'' White House spokesman Tony Snow denied Bush was pushing tougher border security for political cover.
''I think it's really more about political opportunity,'' Snow told reporters.
Bush's prime-time address -- the first in the Oval Office for a speech on a domestic topic -- comes two weeks after millions of immigrants and their supporters rallied across the United States in support of the Senate legislation.
REUTERS PG PM0401