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Pioneer Editorial: Border plan a good start, but not done

Americans want to feel secure within the nation's borders, but they also want assurances that the ideals of America, the Land of Opportunity, is retained.

President Bush, in his address to the nation on Monday night, gave those assur-ances in an attempt to break the congres-sional gridlock over immigration reforms that teeter between excessive and weak.

The president laid out a thoughtful plan to increase patrols of our Southern border, an attempt to stem the tide of illegal entry into this nation, adding 6,000 more Border Patrol agents to the 12,000 already there. He called for the use of new technology to make our borders more secure, certainly a better solution than the GOP House's plan to construct a high fence along the Mexican border.

It will take time to reach those levels, however, and President Bush wants to implement a secure border strategy immediately. The best way to do so, he believes, is by calling up 6,000 National Guard troops to serve temporarily for a year until the Border Patrol is strengthened. While a common-sense solution, it is also deeply troubling.

The use of armed troops at the border, although not in a front-line capacity which will still be provided by the Border Patrol, is nonetheless militarizing our bor-der security. Even though President Bush disagrees, the use of unformed armed military troops sends the wrong message to our neighbor to the South, Mexico.

Still, President Bush is right. What else can we do? We only hope that the role the National Guard plays is deeply in the background and as temporary as possible. But that also means a bigger commitment from the administration to indeed hire and train the needed Border Patrol agents. At the last go-round, Congress sought 2,000 more agents but the Bush budget only funded 200.

The president is right in calling for strict-er enforcement of immigration laws, hold-ing employers responsible for hiring legal immigrants and speeding up the process to deport illegal immigrants when caught.

He's also right that the United States just can't uproot and deport the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants now within our borders. But President Bush's "guest worker" program should not lead to automatic citizenship. His speech Monday night lacked details, other than indicating that an illegal immigrant who has lived here an unspecified number of years and has established a home and a career should not be deported but allowed to pay some kind of fine and seek citizenship. Before agreeing to that, we need to know many more details, such as how long an immigrant needs to be illegally working in the United States to be considered for a citizenship program.

What was missing, however, was a plan for more secure northern borders. While we know that the Southern border sees more illegal immigration, we want our northern borders to be secure too. But current plans to require passports to enter and leave from the north may be too onerous for U.S. and Canadian citizens used to a friendlier -- and less costly -- crossing for jobs and recreation.