WASHINGTON—President Bush is sending thousands of National Guard troops to bolster patrols along the Mexican border, a move designed to win support for immigration reform from get-tough conservatives in his party.
Bush, in a speech to the nation Monday, is proposing to use the troops in a supportive role to the Border Patrol while it builds up its resources to more effectively secure the 2,000-mile line between the U.S. and Mexico, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
Snow said the effort would use only “a very small percentage of the Guard,” which numbers about 400,000 members around the country. White House officials say it would involve fewer than 10,000 Guardmen.
In a signal of the high stakes on the issue, Bush was to make the announcement at 8 p.m. EDT, in a rare prime-time speech from the Oval Office. He planned to follow up the address with a visit Thursday to the border, in Yuma, Ariz., to further press his case.
The broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox and the cable networks Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC planned live coverage of the speech, set to run less than 20 minutes.
Though some Republicans defended Bush’s plan, others on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about overextending a National Guard force that is already tied up in Iraq and must be at the ready for disaster relief.
“We’ve got National Guard members on their second, third and fourth tours in Iraq,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. “We have stretched our military as thin as we have ever seen it in modern times. And what in the world are we talking about here, sending a National Guard that we may not have any capacity to send up to or down to protect borders? That’s not their role.”
Mexican President Vicente Fox called Bush Sunday to express concern about what he called the possibility of a “militarized” border between the two nations.
Snow said Bush assured Fox that there is “no attempt to militarize the border.” The president told Fox that any military support would be administrative and logistical and would come from the National Guard and not the Army, according to a news release from Fox’s office.