Fri May 12, 2006 5:52 PM ET
By Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush is expected to announce efforts to tighten security at the U.S.-Mexico border, possibly sending more National Guard troops, in a prime-time address on Monday, a senior Bush administration official said on Friday.
Bush, locked in a test of wills with some conservatives furious at his support for legalizing some illegal immigrants, will stand firm in his support for a guest-worker program and his opposition to a mass deportation of the estimated 12 million immigrants in the country, the official said.
In a 15-20 minute address, Bush will seek to influence a Senate debate next week on immigration. The White House is asking major television networks for a live coverage of the speech at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) on Monday.
The president supports attempts in the Senate to pass a measure that legalizes the status of some illegal immigrants while also beefing up borders rather than a version passed in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives that would focus on security, a bill that has drawn the ire of immigrant communities.
Senate leaders this week agreed to try to reconsider a broad immigration measure after an earlier deadlock.
A Defense Department official said the Pentagon was considering options for possibly sending troops or equipment to help with security on the U.S.-Mexican border.
The senior administration official said Bush had not decided whether to send more National Guard troops to porous border areas.
He said a rumored estimate of 10,000 such troops was simply wrong but would not give a precise figure. He said Bush might announce a mix of solutions, such as Guard troops, increased state and local enforcement and private sector responsibilities.
"There are a lot of different ways in which you can meet a need," the official said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said it was "crunch time" on the immigration issue with the Senate looking at it now.
The debate has galvanized millions of immigrants and their supporters to join rallies and boycotts across the country supporting legislation to give illegal immigrants a chance to earn legal status.
CONSERVATIVES OPPOSE GUEST-WORKER PLAN
But conservative anger at the guest-worker proposal -- which would let immigrants work temporarily in the United States -- helped erode support for Bush from his Republican base.
Bush's popularity tumbled to a new low of 29 percent in a Harris poll on Friday in the Wall Street Journal online.
Some conservatives view the guest worker idea as a type of amnesty for illegal immigrants -- a characterization Bush rejects.
"Immigration is a divisive issue for Republicans," said Stephen Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University. "The president doesn't seem to be able to win by it (the issue), but he's got to try to minimize his losses."
Wayne said business groups favor the guest-worker idea, but many Republicans want to emphasize border enforcement.
Bush had also hoped a guest-worker plan would help Republicans court Hispanic voters.
On Friday, protesters opposed to illegal immigration wrapped up a cross-country caravan with a rally in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. But immigrant-rights activists chanted for them to "go away."
(Additional reporting by Will Dunham, Andy Sullivan and Steve Holland)
Edited by Imaginary Friend, 13 May 2006 - 01:26 PM.