WASHINGTON – President Bush ordered up to 6,000 National Guard troops to reinforce the U.S.-Mexico border against illegal immigrants and called for a "rational middle ground" on citizenship for millions of men and women already in the country illegally.
"We do not yet have full control of the border and I am determined to change that," Bush said on prime-time television Monday night.
Under his new plan, as many as 6,000 National Guard troops would be dispatched to states along the Mexico border to provide intelligence and surveillance support to Border Patrol agents. The Border Patrol would still remain responsible for catching and detaining illegal immigrants.
"The United States is not going to militarize the southern border," he said.
The deployment of National Guards to strengthen the border was one of "five clear objectives" emphasized during Bush’s speech.
Other suggestions included the creation of a temporary worker program to reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across the border illegally, and the development of a tamper-proof identification card that would make it easier for employers to identify illegal workers.
The president also made more explicit remarks on possible citizenship for illegal aliens already residing in the country, showing an effort to appeal to moderates and business owners who favor liberalized immigration laws.
"We must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here," he said. "Some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every illegal immigrant, and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty. I disagree.
"It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation."
Some conservative Christians criticized Bush for trying to take the middle ground in the immigration debate.
"It was a classic head-bob to the right followed by a dash to the left," said Steven T. Voigt, executive director of the Foundations of Law PAC, a lobbying group that promotes Judeo-Christian, conservative candidates for office. "The President outlined what would be an entirely ineffective plan to secure the border and then all but endorsed the wayward Senate plan for mass amnesty."
Meanwhile, pro-immigration Christians welcomed Bush’s emphasis on the need for immigration reform, but criticized him for failing to address the issue in a more humane and compassionate way.
"The real solution to the immigration crisis lies in a comprehensive approach to the problem," said Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, California, Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Migration. "This approach must include a long-term strategy to address the root causes of flight, such as combating poverty in sending countries."
Bishop Barnes also cautiously disapproved the plan to dispatch the National Guard, saying "there has not been an adequate public discussion about its implications, especially for the treatment of migrants."
According to the president’s speech, National Guard troops would mostly serve two-week stints before rotating out of assignment. Deployment of troops is set to begin in June.