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Border troops would be temporary, US tells Mexico

Susan Cornwell / Reuters | May 15 2006

U.S. President George W. Bush assured Mexican President Vicente Fox on Sunday he did not intend to militarize their countries' mutual border, but was considering sending National Guard troops there to temporarily support border control efforts.

"The president made clear that the United States considers Mexico a friend and that what is being considered is not militarization of the border, but support of border patrol capabilities on a temporary basis by National Guard personnel," White House spokeswoman Maria Tamburri said, describing a telephone conversation between Bush and his Mexican counterpart.

Fox "reached out" to Bush on Sunday to relay his concerns about the plan that is under consideration, Tamburri said.

Bush will deliver a televised address to the nation on immigration on Monday evening. The White House said last week he may propose deploying more National Guard troops along the 2,000-mile (3,200 km) border to stop illegal immigration.

Fox's office said during the call Bush said the United States and Mexico were partners and friends, but a thorough immigration reform was needed to solve the problem between both countries.

The idea has also gotten a mixed reception on Capitol Hill, where some senators are worried that the National Guard is already stretched too thin to take on major additional duties.

White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley went on television Sunday to emphasize that no final decision on sending the troops had been made. He said the idea was to "provide a bit of a stopgap as the Border Patrol build up their capacity to deal with this challenge.

"This is something that's actually already being done. It's not about militarization of the border," Hadley said on CNN's "Late Edition."

'PROVIDING INTELLIGENCE, PROVIDING SUPPORT'

"It's about assisting the civilian Border Patrol in doing their job, providing intelligence, providing support, logistics support and training and these sorts of things," he said.

The Border Patrol arrested nearly 1.2 million people last year trying to cross the Mexican border and estimates that 500,000 others evaded capture.

In his Monday address, timed to coincide with the resumption of a Senate debate on immigration reform, Bush is expected to express support for a temporary worker program and a plan to give millions of illegal immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.

The president's speech comes as his job approval ratings continue to slide to around 30 percent in some recent polls.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said on Sunday he backed sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Everything else we've done has failed, we've got to face that. And so, we need to bring in, I believe, the National Guard," Frist, a Tennessee Republican, argued on CNN's "Late Edition."

But Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who helped broker the compromise immigration legislation to be debated on the Senate floor this week, said he was "skeptical."

"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's "This Week."

Hagel said 75 percent of the equipment of National Guard forces was in Iraq, and noted that some National Guard members had done as many as four tours of duty there.

"We have stretched our military as thin as we have ever seen it in modern times," Hagel said. "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?"

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