Monday, May 15, 2006

The Calm Before The Storm

Bloomberg - President George W. Bush will seek to satisfy Republicans who want to curb illegal immigration without alienating those who support his plan to create a guest-worker program when he addresses the nation tonight.

Bush faces a breach in his own party over what to do about the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally, an issue that he has made a focal point of his agenda for the year. To close that divide, he is considering deploying National Guard troops to the 3,000-mile southern U.S. border to reassure one segment of his core supporters that he won't allow unfettered immigration.

``He's trying to convince skeptical Republicans that the administration is really serious about immigration enforcement,'' said Frank Sharry, executive director of the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, a group that backs a guest-worker plan. Increased border enforcement may ``provide some political cover and comfort to reluctant Republicans in the House and Senate,'' he said.

Bush is scheduled to speak from the White House at 8 p.m., a few hours after the Senate resumes debate on legislation that addresses Bush's goals of creating the guest-worker program and giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status. By contrast, the House of Representatives last year approved a measure boosting criminal penalties for illegal immigration and funding a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border. House Republicans didn't consider the guest-worker plan.

Looking for Leadership

Senator Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, said the president will need to apply the full force of his leadership if he hopes to get the House to go along. ``They're going to have a president of their own party who's going to be telling them to move forward in a way that is constructive,'' he said Friday after Bush's plan to speak was announced.

Illustrating the balancing act Bush faces, some supporters of his broader plans on immigration are voicing skepticism about putting troops along the border.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, co-sponsor with Martinez of the Senate legislation, said yesterday the National Guard already is stretched too thin by commitments in Iraq and elsewhere. ``That's a short-term fix,'' Hagel said on ABC's ``This Week'' program. ``I'm not sure that's a very wise fix.''

In the States

White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the idea of using National Guard troops to bolster border security came out of meetings with members of Congress and state governors. Yet governors of two of the states most affected by illegal immigration aren't happy with the idea.

``The federal government should put up the money to create the kind of protection that the federal government is responsible to provide,'' California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and an immigrant from Austria, said at a news conference on Friday, according to KCBS in San Francisco. It shouldn't use ``National Guard soldiers that are coming back from Iraq'' for border duty, he said.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat, who declared a state of emergency last year to deal with a flood of undocumented immigrants, said Friday that using the National Guard would lessen U.S. capabilities to respond to ``other emergencies and natural disasters.''

The proposal also raised concerns in Mexico. President Vicente Fox called Bush yesterday to discuss the use of troops on the border, White House spokeswoman Maria Tamburri said.


In their telephone conversation, Bush ``made clear that the United States considers Mexico a friend and that what is being considered is not a militarization of the border, but support of border-control capabilities on a temporary basis by the National Guard,'' Tamburri said.

The two leaders discussed ways of boosting border security, she said, without giving any details.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who initially supported legislation dealing only with border enforcement and later embraced the guest-worker plan, backed the idea of using troops.

``The only thing that we can do to secure our borders right now is to give our states help, and that is best done through the National Guard,'' Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said on CNN's ``Late Edition'' program yesterday.

Representative Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is leading opposition to creation of a guest-worker program, didn't return calls yesterday seeking comment.

Hadley said any troops would assist the civilian border patrol by providing intelligence, delivering supplies and other logistics and training.

Relieving Pressure

``That will take some of the pressure off on the border and allow the border patrol to focus on the things we're really worried about, which is crime and narcotics and the like,'' Hadley said in a separate interview on CNN. ``It's not about militarization of the border.''

The guest-worker program is linked to security, he said, because providing a legal avenue for immigration will reduce the number of people trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

Martinez said Bush must address concerns about border security to achieve his broader immigration goals.

``The president will do whatever it takes to make sure that he can give the people of this country that sense of understanding that, 'Yes, the border is going to be secure.' Now let's move on and deal with this problem comprehensively,'' he said in response to questions after a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday.

Senate Legislation

The Senate measure that Martinez and Hagel are sponsoring, with the support of lawmakers including Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, contains enforcement provisions similar to those passed by the House last year. It would require all U.S. employers to verify the immigration status of each new hire within five years, add 1,000 new immigration inspectors and boost the number of border patrol agents by 14,000 over the next six years.

The legislation would create up to 400,000 guest-worker visas for unskilled workers and provide a path to legal status for many undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.

While the immigration debate has divided Republican members of Congress, a majority of the public supports Bush's approach. A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll last month showed 63 percent of U.S. adults support proposals to give legal status to undocumented workers and legislation that combines tougher enforcement of immigration laws with new temporary-worker programs. Among Republican voters, 64 percent support such a proposal, the April 8-11 poll found.