WASHINGTON (AP)- On the eve of President Bush’s Oval Office address on immigration, members of Congress expressed concern yesterday that using National Guard troops to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the border would further burden an already overextended military.

Angela Cesere
A Mexican citizen looks over a fence marking the U.S. border near San Diego last month. President Bush is expected to announce a plan to use National Guard troops to patrol the boarder in his address on immigration tonight. (AP PHOTO)

The criticism came from Democrats, but also an important Republican negotiator in the immigration debate – Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He said National Guard troops cannot secure the border over the long term and that he does not think it is wise even in the short term.

“We’ve got National Guard members on their second, third and fourth tours in Iraq,” Hagel said. “We have stretched our military as thin as we have ever seen it in modern times. And what in the world are we talking about here, sending a National Guard that we may not have any capacity to send up to or down to protect borders? That’s not their role.”

The president’s national security adviser said sending troops to patrol the border with Mexico is among the ideas Bush is considering on immigration.

Bush plans to say in his national address at 8 p.m. tonight how the government should deal with border security and illegal immigrants already in the United States, Stephen Hadley said.

“This is not about militarizing the border,” Hadley said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “The president is looking to do everything he can to secure the border. It’s what the American people want.”

Bush is considering the National Guard plan as he seeks support from conservatives in Congress for his immigration bill. Bush wants to allow foreigners to get temporary work permits to enter and work in the United States but many conservatives want a tougher approach on illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the country.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he supported using the National Guard on the Mexican border. He said lawmakers who doubt that the National Guard, whose members have served for years in Iraq and went to the Gulf Coast after last summer’s hurricanes, could take on border patrol duty are “whining” and “moaning.”

“We’ve got to secure our borders,” Frist said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “We hear it from the American people. We’ve got millions of people coming across that border. First and foremost, secure the border, whatever it takes. Everything else we’ve done has failed. We’ve got to face that. And so we need to bring in, I believe, the National Guard.”

Hagel said the bill under debate in the Senate that he helped write would double the 12,000-strong Border Patrol force over the next five years. “That’s the way to fix it, not further stretching the National Guard,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

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