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Bush Immigration Initiatives Earn Mixed Review


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush announced last night that he will send 6,000 National Guard troops to help secure the U.S. border with Mexico. In a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office, the president also laid out a path for illegal immigrants already in the country to become citizens. The president described his proposals as a rational middle ground, but didn't win over all his fellow Republicans, including Colorado Congressman, Tom Tancredo.

Representative TOM TANCREDO (Republican, Colorado): I am very worried about the fact that he's trying to marry these two concepts, of securing the border with a guest worker plan. They are totally different in nature and you cannot, I think, have a bill that combines both.

MONTAGNE: Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, speaking on NPR last night.

Joining me now to talk about reaction to the president's speech is NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Good morning.


Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What is the early response to the president's speech?

LUDDEN: It's mixed. Governors in the border states have complained that they weren't consulted about this, beforehand. They say that they're grateful the president is paying attention to their problem, but they're skeptical that this is going to work. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in California, called it a Band-Aid, and said his state's National Guard troops are already stretched thin because of Iraq. In Oregon, the Democratic governor said he's got fire season approaching and he needs his National Guard troops home to protect the state's forests.

There was some more positive reaction in Congress. We heard Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert say that sending National Guardsmen to the border could be affective, in the short term.

But there is some concern that the troops don't cross a line into law enforcement. And Senator Arlen Specter, who heads the Judiciary Committee, said that, we will have to legislate carefully, to limit their duties.

MONTAGNE: And as we said, the president is calling for thousands of troops on the border, but also more high-technology surveillance. Both of these have been used—and how effectively?

LUDDEN: The evidence is not very… I mean, for the past decade, the U.S. has doubled, and doubled again, the number of Border Patrol agents. And has used increasingly high-technology surveillance equipment. It has not reduced the flow of migrants. It's pushed them from urban areas to more rural desert crossings. It's made the trip more deadly. But, the same number of people are making it.

One of the problems is this severe lack of detention space. Even if there were, say, a spike in arrests, now, there's not enough spaces to put them in, in jails. The president did repeat his call for more beds, but it's still not nearly enough. And I had someone at the immigration agency tell me, yesterday, you know, it's just never been a sexy thing for Congress to fund more detention spaces.

MONTAGNE: And the president also repeated his call for a guest worker program. Is Congress more likely to support that proposal, with this latest move, to beef up enforcement along the border?

LUDDEN: There might be some. Because certainly, we've heard some say, look, we're not opposed to a guest worker program, but we want to secure the border, first. And clearly, President Bush is trying to show them; that's what I'm doing. But they are some who will not like something else the president said. For the first time I know of, last night, he waded into probably the most contentious part of this debate, and that is what to do with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already here. Mr. Bush said that some, here a number of years, should be given a shot at citizenship. But he said that this is not amnesty. Let's listen to the president.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe that illegal immigrants that have roots in our country and want to stay, should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law; to pay their taxes; to learn English; and to work in a job for a number of years.

LUDDEN: That's the most direct endorsement of legislation that's now being debated in the Senate.

MONTAGNE: And what is next in that regard?

LUDDEN: Well, the president called on the Senate to pass legislation in the next two weeks. And if they do, then the really hard part begins. And that will be, reconciling that, with legislation in the House, which is all about enforcement and no guest worker program at all. Whether or not they can reconcile those two, may depend a lot on how involved President Bush is in this issue.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jennifer Ludden, thanks very much for joining us.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.