May 15, 2006 — -- President Bush gave a rare primetime address to the nation this evening to announce his plan to use thousands of National Guard troops to secure the border.
Bush told the country that although the administration has increased funding and manpower for the Border Patrol significantly, "We do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that."
He called on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border.
Bush said it's crucial to not only increase patrols but to reduce the number of people trying to sneak across the border, saying that employers must be held accountable for the workers they hire.
"Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees, because of the widespread problem of document fraud," Bush will told the nation. "Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility. ... A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law, and leave employers with no excuse for violating it."
Bush says that although we are a nation of laws, we are also a nation of immigrants. "These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," he said.
The fact is that millions of illegal immigrants are already in the country, Bush said, but they should not be given an automatic path to citizenship.
"This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully -- and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration."
The Oval Office speech comes as the Senate is set to debate immigration reform this week and as conservatives clamor for stronger border security.
It was the president's first primetime speech this year and the first such address to focus on a domestic issue.
The White House asked the five television networks to carry the speech live -- the only such request since the president spoke on Iraq last December.
In an effort to build momentum on the issue, Bush will travel to Yuma, Ariz., on Thursday to speak on his immigration policy and tour the border.
The Senate takes up immigration reform legislation this week after a compromise was announced Thursday between Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Senators will work on the conference bill with their counterparts in the House, clearing the way to move forward.
Voting on amendments to the Senate bill could begin as early as Tuesday, and debate will continue all week.
Bush will propose using National Guard troops to help secure the border, while also reiterating his key principles on immigration reform and calling for a "respectful debate" on Capitol Hill and around the country.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett told ABC News' "Good Morning America" that the president would talk about an increased presence along the U.S.-Mexico border and the measures the federal government would take to support the role of the U.S. Border Patrol officers already in place there.
The White House is considering moving 5,000 National Guard troops to the southern border but emphasizes they will not be involved directly in law enforcement.
Instead, National Guard troops would:
Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert from the Brookings Institution, said that while this move of troops would not make the border airtight, it would enhance the current border security.
"Five thousand National Guardsmen at the border is a substantial increase in our capability overall, which is about 10,000 total agents right now in the Border Patrol," he told ABC News. "And so you're looking at a 50 percent increase."
Bartlett stressed this morning that the president was not announcing a plan to militarize the border.
"Any National Guard presence down along the border will be in a supporting role," he said. "They will not have law enforcement responsibilities, but they will be helping surveil, build infrastructureand meet other immediate needs while we build up our Border Patrol forces."
Still, the proposal has already drawn criticism from members of the president's own party.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R- Neb., urged caution Sunday on using the National Guard for border security and said that it was already stretched too thin because of deployments to Iraq.
"I think we have to be very careful here. That's not the role of our military. That's not the role of our National Guard," Hagel said on ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
"We've got National Guard members on their second, third and fourth tours in Iraq. We have stretched our military as thin as we have ever seen it in modern times."
Bartlett rejected those complaints and said the president would not put forward a plan if he felt it would take away from the National Guard's mission.
In addition to the National Guard announcement, President Bush will outline his key principles on immigration reform.
The president has stated the three key points he wants in a bill are: