The Senate is delving into contentious immigration legislation after a televised prod from President George W. Bush to toughen border security with National Guard troops and find a "rational middle ground" on citizenship for millions of men and women in the United States illegally.
The centerpiece of Bush's speech Monday night was his announcement that as many as 6,000 National Guard troops would be dispatched to states along the Mexican border to provide intelligence and surveillance support to civilian Border Patrol agents. The Border Patrol would remain responsible for catching and detaining illegal immigrants.
"We do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that," the president said.
Still, Bush insisted, "The United States is not going to militarize the southern border."
Democrats responded with a pledge of cooperation and a barbed question for the commander in chief. Bush "has the power to call up the National Guard to patrol the border," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat. "But does he have the power to lead his own Republican forces in Congress in support of real immigration reform?"
Durbin's jab was aimed at anticipated year-end compromise negotiations with House Republicans. But the next move in an election-year struggle belonged to the Senate, where, hours before Bush spoke, debate opened on a bipartisan bill that generally met his specifications.
The measure includes tougher border security provisions, a guest worker program and an eventual path to citizenship for nearly all the estimated 12 million immigrants in the country illegally. The bill also includes steps to make sure employers don't hire illegal workers, reports the AP.
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