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To the Border, March

Prepared by: Staff
Updated May 18, 2006


President George Bush called for the nation both to enforce its laws and welcome new workers in a major speech on immigration from the White House. "America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," he said. Yet, in a move widely regarded as an effort to appease conservatives in his Republican party, Bush announced a decision to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico (MSNBC). The move antagonized Mexican President Vicente Fox—courted early in Bush's tenure as an ally—who called Bush to register his concern about militarization on the border (BBC).

Bush’s plan comes as Congress debates several highly controversial proposals to reform the nation’s immigration system, and as the Senate overwhelmingly passed a provision to build 370 miles of fencing along the border (NYT). The immigration-reform issue has brought hundreds of thousands into the streets nationwide to rally for immigrants’ rights. But opposition is also growing, particularly in states like California and Arizona, where residents say illegal immigrants overwhelm state services (LAT). The immigration debate is explained in this CFR Background Q&A by Esther Pan.

Some analysts said Bush, as the former governor of a border state, has always welcomed immigration as an invigorating force for America (NYT). But the Dallas Morning News says deploying National Guard troops along the border will be of little use, since they are not trained to interdict drug smuggling. The Los Angeles Times notes that, reflecting political sensitivities, the new guard force on the border will be nearly invisible on the ground. And the Arizona Republic calls Bush’s move a major step toward comprehensive immigration reform, but adds, “We only wish he had spent some of his political capital on this issue when he had a little more political capital to spend.”

And therein lies the rub. The move to send troops to the border comes as Bush's job approval ratings fall precipitously and political observers increasingly claim to see a clear link between policy and the polls (NPR). Leading members of both U.S. political parties appear to agree Bush's decisions on a range of policy issues are informed—and limited by—what happens in the war in Iraq. The president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, says: "People like this president. They're just sour right now on the war." True or not, the increasingly unpopular conflict has weakened the president, bolstered his rivals, and encouraged dissenters in the GOP's ranks (WashPost).

James M. Lindsay, CFR's vice president and director of studies, says recent political trends indicate the extent to which the Iraq war has deeply damaged the Bush presidency. "He has gone from being seen as a man in control of events, in charge of his administration, to being perceived as someone who does not command in government," says Lindsay, a former Clinton administration national security staffer, in an interview with's Bernard Gwertzman.

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