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Democrats' immigration response

Durbin questions use of National Guard, calls for more details

Sen. Richard Durbin says Republicans have not met the Border Patrol's funding needs.


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush spoke to the nation about immigration Monday night. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the assistant minority leader, gave the Democratic Party's response.

The following is a transcript of Durbin's remarks.

DURBIN: Good evening.

All Americans agree: We must act now to secure our borders and fix our broken immigration system, but we don't need a military solution to break a political stalemate. We need leadership.

Democrats are willing to support any reasonable plan that will secure our borders, including the deployment of National Guard troops. But Americans don't want a plan that's been cobbled together to win political favor. This cannot turn into another long-term military deployment with no clear plan.

Earlier today, the White House said they had a stop-gap plan to use a very small percentage of the National Guard to help secure our borders.

The president tonight discussed 6,000 National Guardsmen replaced every two or three weeks.

But the president's plan will deploy over 150,000 National Guard troops along the Mexican border over the next two years.

Far too many details have been left out. The president needs to speak candidly to Congress and the American people and answer some pointed questions.

If securing our borders is our highest national priority, why will it take two years to hire and train the new Border Patrol agents?

The 9/11 Commission recommended -- and Congress authorized -- the hiring of 10,000 new Border Patrol agents two years ago. Each year since, the president's budget requested and his Republican Congress funded fewer agents than we knew that we needed.

Now we are asking our National Guard to step in where the Congress has failed to respond. And the president's proposal raises serious questions about the future of the National Guard.

If Guard members are going to forgo their regular training to patrol the border, are they going to be prepared the next time we have an emergency at home or abroad?

Will the president guarantee the National Guard troops will be available to protect their own homes and communities if they're needed?

How much more are we going to ask of our National Guard?

They've shown they'll do everything asked of them to protect and defend this nation. They've demonstrated that in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Gulf Coast after Katrina.

But our Guard and Reserves are stretched dangerously thin and we're moving into a dangerous weather season.

Deployments have taken their toll on the men and women of our National Guard, their families and the equipment they use.

A recent report to Congress says that our National Guard units on average have about one-third of the equipment that they need to respond. We have to take that into consideration if they're now facing a new deployment.

Real immigration reform begins with enforcement at the border and in the workplace, but it does not end with enforcement.

During the last decade, we have doubled the number of Border Patrol agents and illegal immigration into the United States has also doubled.

We need a comprehensive, tough and fair approach.

People who have broken our laws should not and will not be rewarded with amnesty. But people who work hard and play by the rules should have a chance to earn their way to legal status if they pay a fine, learn English, pay back taxes and go to the back of the line.

We know where the House Republicans stand: They want to criminalize undocumented immigrants and the nurses, volunteers and people of faith who help them.

The president told us tonight that he supports tough, fair, comprehensive reform. Now he must lead.

The president has the power to call up the National Guard to patrol our border, but now he must summon the power to lead his own Republican forces in Congress to support a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform.

Thank you.

QUESTION: The president clearly addressed Congress by name, but didn't really differentiate the House bill from the Senate bill. Does he need to do more -- did you expect him to say specifically what he wanted?

DURBIN: I read the president's speech closely and listened to it. It is clear to me that he favors the approach that the Senate is taking, a comprehensive approach.

I didn't expect him to endorse a specific piece of legislation. But he made it clear that enforcement is not enough. And the House Republican bill is all about enforcement.

QUESTION: That being said, the House Republicans are pretty strong and pretty united when it comes to these big issues, and you had [Wisconsin Rep. James] Sensenbrenner leading, you know, a fight to push stronger enforcement and what-not.

How likely is it now, even though the president has signed on in support to more of a comprehensive approach, how likely is it that the House Republicans will go along with that? I mean, what are the chances?

DURBIN: Well, remember just a few weeks ago that Speaker [Dennis] Hastert and Leader [Bill] Frist both said that they rejected the Sensenbrenner approach, the criminalizing of immigrants as well as those who helped them.

Now, as I said at the beginning, it's really up to the president. Can he bring enough people in his political party forward to support bipartisan immigration reform? That, I think, is the test of political leadership.

And I don't think it's any coincidence that his announcement came on the first day of the opening of the Senate debate on this issue.

QUESTION: What would you suggest could be done in the short term, if not sending, you know, the National Guard down (inaudible) the president suggests? How do you think that the government should address the real, you know, the concerns of Americans about the border?

DURBIN: Well, bringing enforcement to the border and the workplace are essential to comprehensive immigration reform.

Unfortunately, we haven't kept to our own schedule to increase Border Patrol agents. The president's budget has fallen short each year to meet the goals of the 9/11 Commission and the intelligence reform bill that we passed. And the Republican Congress has refused to fund those personnel that were needed at the border.

So we're playing catch-up at this point.

And the president's suggested tonight we will catch up using National Guardsmen.

You know, we tried to do a calculation, but moving 6,000 people in and out of the border, 6,000 National Guardsmen in and out of the border, every two or three weeks will involve over 100,000 National Guardsmen in the first year, not to mention the second year.

So what we are doing is supplementing what should've been permanent professional Border Patrol agents with National Guardsmen, many of whom already have served us overseas and have been apart from their families for long periods of time.

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