Bush assures Fox on plan for border

Guard role will not be permanent, president tells Mexican leader

May 15, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - President Bush's plan to send National Guard troops to patrol the southern border of the United States has raised the concern of his longtime ally President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who called Bush yesterday to express his worries.

White House officials said Bush assured Fox that a permanent National Guard presence on the border was not being considered.

"The president made clear that the United States considers Mexico a friend," said Maria Tamburri, a White House spokeswoman.

Tamburri said the president told Fox, "What is being considered is not a militarization of the border, but support of border patrol capabilities, on a temporary basis, by National Guard personnel."

In a televised address scheduled for 8 p.m. today, Bush is expected to call for a significantly increased National Guard presence at the border. Officials have indicated that Bush could call for a force of thousands but that it would not be as high as 10,000, a number that had been rumored late last week.

Reports of the plan over the weekend also caused concern among lawmakers, including some Republicans, who said they feared the National Guard was already overextended with military missions abroad and with its response to natural disasters at home.

Today, Bush is also expected to outline several other proposals aimed at sealing the border and cracking down on workers who are illegally in the United States, and the employers who hire them. Aides said he would also renew his calls for an overhaul of the nation's immigration law that includes provisions to grant illegal immigrants the right to work here legally.

The president's speech, his first on domestic policy from the Oval Office, is to come as the Senate begins trying again to pass a bill that addresses competing demands to stem the flow of workers across the border from Mexico and the desire of American employers to have reliable access to a low-wage work force.

White House officials have made it clear they hope that a plan to seal the border will help Bush in that effort to strike a compromise between any bill passed in the Senate and the one passed in December in the House, where many Republicans have opposed any steps to legalize illegal workers.

"The president is looking to do everything he can to secure the border," said Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, on Face the Nation on CBS. "It's what the American people want, it's what he wants to do."

Hadley said a plan to send National Guard troops to the border - officials say there are about 200 there now - would be to supplement the Border Patrol as it adds agents whose training and deployment will take time.

White House officials said that was the message that the president conveyed to Fox, whose defense minister met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Friday.

A statement from Fox's office said that during the president's 30-minute conversation he reiterated to Bush his conviction that the best way to manage the problem of illegal migration was with comprehensive legislation.

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