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Programming Note: Lou Dobbs joins Wolf Blitzer to preview President Bush's prime-time address on immigration on "The Situation Room," Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

Concerns raised over Guard border plan

Mexican president, lawmakers cautious ahead of Bush speech

Vicente Fox, left, takes President Bush, center, and Canada's Stephen Harper on a March tour of a Mayan pyramid.


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As President Bush prepared to address the nation on immigration, U.S. lawmakers and Mexico's president on Sunday raised concerns about the possible deployment of U.S. National Guard troops along the border.

A statement from the office of Mexican President Vicente Fox said he told Bush he was worried about any possible U.S. move to "militarize" the roughly 2,000-mile border, one of the longest unfortified frontiers in the world.

The proposal has drawn criticism from members of both major parties in the United States, with one key Republican senator saying Sunday he has "a lot of questions" about the idea. (Watch the debate over using the National Guard -- 2:36)

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist dismissed the concerns, saying the use of National Guard troops is the only short-term solution to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

"The only thing that we can do to secure our borders right now is to give our states help, and that is best done through the National Guard," the Tennessee Republican told CNN's "Late Edition."

Bush is scheduled to speak to the nation from the Oval Office about immigration and border security Monday night, as the Senate resumes debate on the issues. (Full story)

Two White House officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that Bush will propose using Guard troops on the border while the Border Patrol beefs up its resources.

Bush has discussed the "stopgap" proposal to bolster border security with National Guard troops, along with "a lot of [other] ideas," with members of Congress, national security adviser Stephen Hadley told CNN.

Hadley stressed that it "is not a new" idea.

"It's not about militarization of the border. It's about assisting the civilian border patrol in doing their job, providing intelligence, providing support, logistics support and training," Hadley said.

Under the plan, Pentagon sources have said the federal government will foot the bill for activating several thousand additional National Guard troops to augment security along the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Key Republican skeptical

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, reacted cautiously to the proposal.

"I think we have to be very careful here," Hagel said on ABC's "This Week."

"That's not the role of our National Guard."

Hagel, a sponsor of compromise immigration legislation before the Senate, said the U.S. military is already stretched "as thin as we've ever seen it in modern times."

"I'll listen to the president, but I've got a lot of questions," Hagel said.

That sentiment echoed Friday's comments by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who told CNN that National Guard forces were too "overextended" and "depleted" by service in Iraq and the Gulf Coast to secure the border.

"We have thousands and thousands of guard and reserve troops in Iraq; now we're going to ask them to go to the border?" the Nevada Democrat said. "I don't think they are able to do that."

Frist dismissed Reid's comment as "whining" and "moaning."

"We hear it from the American people, we've got millions of people coming across that border -- first and foremost, secure the border, whatever it takes," he said.

"Everything else we've done has failed. We've got to face that." (More from Frist)

Active-duty U.S. troops are barred from domestic law enforcement by a Reconstruction-era law known as Posse Comitatus, but National Guard troops under state control can perform some law enforcement functions.

Frist restated his confidence that an immigration bill proposal will be completed before Memorial Day, May 29.

Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, told ABC, "I think it's more likely than not" that it will be law by the November midterm elections.

Leaders push 'comprehensive' bill

In Sunday's half-hour telephone call, Fox's office said Bush told him "what was being analyzed was the administrative and logistical support by the National Guard, not by the Army, to police the border."

White House spokeswoman Maria Tamburri said Bush told Fox that what his administration is considering "is not a militarization of the border, but support of Border Patrol capabilities on a temporary basis by National Guard personnel."

"The president reiterated to President Fox his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform," Tamburri said.

The statement from Fox's office said both leaders agreed that solving the issue of border control is a joint responsibility that can be resolved "only through integral and comprehensive reform."

"The two leaders are in agreement in pointing out that the problems of the border are shared tasks and joint responsibilities," it added.

Bush has stressed that "comprehensive" immigration legislation would include a temporary guest-worker program, and the National Guard proposal could help win over some in his own party who favor a more enforcement-focused approach.

The Senate is considering another proposal that would allow illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for several years to obtain legal status, and eventually citizenship, by working for six years, paying a fine, undergoing a background check and learning English.

Supporters call the idea "earned citizenship," but opponents -- including many conservatives in the GOP base -- denounce it as "amnesty."

The GOP majority in Congress has been divided over what to do about the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.

Neither the guest worker program -- which has support in the business community -- nor the legalization process was included in border-security legislation passed by the House in December.

Any bill that passes the Senate would have to be reconciled with the House measure, which calls for 700 miles of fencing along the border and makes illegal immigration a felony.

That bill helped spark a wave of demonstrations nationwide in recent months by supporters of illegal immigrants.

Frist and Reid said last week they had reached agreement on the stalled immigration bill and planned to have the Senate take it up Monday.

They said the deal was reached on the two sticking points -- the makeup of the conference committee that will meld the chambers' bills and the amount of amendments that will be offered.

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