Bush stumbling over border?

John Dimsdale May 15, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Let’s begin this week with a multiple choice test. Do you think President Bush chose today to make a speech to the nation on immigration because . . .

A: There’s been spike in illegal immigrants crossing the border, so he’s sending down the National Guard.

or is it because . . .

B: The Senate is debating immigration this week, and the president’s doing some very public negotiating so lawmakers vote for his priority: a guest-worker program.

Our Washington Bureau Chief John Dimsdale went looking for answers.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Early in his first term, President Bush endorsed a guest worker program to bring more than 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez, who helped broker the bill now on the Senate floor, thinks the President got his priorities out of order.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ: I think the President probably misplaced what the American people needed to hear. He needed to have spoken first about border enforcement. He spoke about a guest-worker program. He got one step ahead.

The Senate bill would double the size of the US border patrol over the next five years. But it also allows illegal immigrants who’ve been in the country for five years or more to stay here and apply for citizenship. Despite support for that from the business community, conservative senators, like Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, oppose what they call amnesty for illegal border crossers.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: The president owes it to the American people to be clear and unequivocal that he intends to enforce the border.

Sessions released a study today that predicts the Senate bill will result in somewhere around 100 million new US citizens over the next 20 years.

SESSIONS: These are not temporary, not seasonal, not really guest workers. They are people who are going to come here, and be able to stay here, and then bring their families here.

While some question whether the National Guard has the resources to take on extra border security, President Bush will travel to the Mexican border Thursday to underscore his commitment to more government patrols.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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