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May 13, 2006
Troops On The Border?

With George Bush announcing a major national address on Monday night regarding immoigration policy, many wonder whether he has any new initiatives to announce or whether he will simply re-emphasize the themes that have so far failed to resonate with the restive GOP base. The Washington Post reports that one new initiative may have National Guard troops deploy in greater numbers to the southern border, reinforcing the DHS' Border Patrol:

President Bush will push next week for a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration laws and plans to tighten security on the borders, possibly with a wider deployment of the National Guard, White House officials said yesterday.

The officials said Bush will use a prime-time television address Monday to outline his plans and then visit the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday to highlight the problem of illegal immigration.

Officials say he is considering substantially increasing the presence of National Guard troops, some of whom are already deployed under state of emergency declarations in New Mexico and Arizona. Administration officials are exploring ways to allow governors to deploy troops across state lines to help seal the porous border with Mexico. ...

But congressional Republicans who back Bush's call for a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants say that is precisely what they need to win over House conservatives. Otherwise, the president's stand will run headlong into a House bill, passed in December, that would make illegal immigrants felons and build hundreds of miles of fence along the Mexican border without offering avenues to legality for undocumented workers.

Bush obviously intends on changing the paramters of the argument. Presidents do not call for prime-time Oval Office speeches without having something substantive and new to reveal. The act itself raises expectations for change, especially when the topic has national-security and domestic policy implications. Polipundit assumes that Bush will use the occasion just to re-emphasize the old themes of hardworking immigrants doing jobs that Americans won't do, and so on; if she's proven right, it will be a mistake of gargantuan proportions. Karl Rove might get nostalgic for approval numbers in the low 30s if that happens.

The reports from the White House so far indicate that Bush as more on his mind. Governors in two Southwestern states have already deployed their National Guard units to the border in order to control the influx of immigrants across the Rio Grande. Apparently, Bush will propose similar deployments for all of the states bordering Mexico and propose ways in which the states can coordinate efforts across their borders.

That can create some legal issues, which the president will need to address in his proposals. The coordination of military efforts across state borders should be the responsibility of the federal government, but federalizing the Guard removes their ability to enforce law and make arrests due to the Posse Comitatus act. Any such deployment would need to be limited in length, as most Guard members have full-time jobs and cannot remain on post for any significant period of time. White House sources have suggested that the deployments will stop-gap the problem while they train a large number of new Border Patrol agents and contractors to do the job permanently.

The most significant development in this story is political, not military, in any case. The dissent from conservatives has clearly caught the attention of both the White House and Congressional leadership. The address on Monday will almost certainly shift the rhetoric of this administration from sympathy for illegals to strengthened border security. Bill Frist has also shown a positive reaction to the criticism in the appointment of the conference committee members. Along with the backers of the normalization program passed by the Senate (McCain, Martinez, Kennedy, Salazar, and Specter), Frist gave plenty of representation to the bill's opponents (Cornyn, Kyl, and Sessions). Combined with the House contingent, the conference committee appears oriented more towards border security as a priority ahead of normalization.

Even Lindsay Graham, a supporter of the Senate plan and a member of the conference committee, understands that the game has changed:

"The winds have shifted," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who will serve on the conference committee that will negotiate a final deal with the House. "The American people are outraged at all of us for not controlling our borders and coming up with a legal system that works. They are not looking for revenge. They are looking for results."

Producing a bill that addresses the various constituencies will be challenging but not impossible. Rep. James Sensenbrenner will press hard for border security, and McCain and Kennedy will press equally hard for normalization. The final bill will likely include both, with perhaps stronger fines and assimilation requirements and tougher penalties for those who avoid registration altogether. That compromise will satisfy most of the nation and give us some progress on border security and the identification of illegals already within the country. It won't be perfect, but it has the potential for positive results.

The voices of the people have been heard, and their representatives have made some long-overdue adjustments. This proves that remaining engaged but not offering blind brand loyalty can bring change. We need to remain engaged in this battle and on spending in order to continue to return the GOP to core conservative values.

UPDATE: Lorie wrote to inform me that the opinion to which I linked belonged to Polipundit, not her. (I've corrected the text above.) She has posted her own opinion, and it's worth reading in its entirety. Here's a sample:

My opinion though is that, although he won’t please those who have decided there is no room for compromise, he will likely please the middle and those that think compromise is okay, as long as it is not on certain points. I think that as long as it has taken him to really come out on this issue, the fact that he knows how upset many in the base are, and that he has chosen the most highly visible forum possible, that he will do much more than rehash old rhetoric. I am expecting him to explain his position and to offer some real solutions to the problem of illegal immigration.
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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 13, 2006 10:28 AM

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