Maine reactions mixed


AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine’s senior senator said Monday night President Bush’s announcement that he will send National Guard personnel to the nation’s southern border demonstrated an understanding that securing the nation’s borders is central to reforming immigration policy.

But Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe also said the president’s plan “is only a partial fix and must be strictly temporary, given the Guard is already stretched thin.”

Added Snowe: “America requires a long-term strategy with the appropriate funding and equipment to address border security and illegal immigration issues once and for all.”

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci said more specifics would be welcome.

“I don’t know the details of it. … At this time I’m deploying Guard troops … to protect the public health and safety here,” Baldacci said, referring to a small activation of Guard personnel thus far in response to flooding in southern Maine.

“I’m concerned about overextending them,” Baldacci said, but added that he would want to know more and consult further with Maine National Guard Maj. Gen. John Libby.

Sen. Susan Collins, the state’s junior senator who like Snowe is a Republican, said securing the nation’s borders “must be the first priority as we tackle the difficult issue of immigration reform.”

Collins, however, also voiced reservations.

“The fact that more than 11 million immigrants are in our country illegally underscores that current border enforcement is woefully inadequate. I have questions, however, about the president’s proposal to use our National Guard troops for border security,” Collins said.

“Although Guard members have performed limited border protection functions in the past, their primary responsibilities are to augment the active duty military in combat or other missions and to help respond to domestic emergencies or needs, such as the flooding that we are now experiencing in Northern New England.

“Our Guard units are already stretched thin by overseas deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, and I am concerned about adding another burden to their missions,” Collins said.

An immigration and border security bill before the Senate would allow illegal immigrants in the country five years or more to remain and eventually become legal residents after paying fines, back taxes and learning English.

It would require illegal immigrants in the U.S. for between two and five years to go to a point of entry at the border and file an application to return.

Those in the country less than two years would be required to leave.

The bill would create a special guest worker program for an estimated 1.5 million immigrant farm workers, who could also earn legal permanent residency.

It would also add up to 14,000 Border Patrol agents by 2011 to the current force of 11,300 agents.

A House-passed immigration bill would increase enforcement, call for constructing 700 miles of fencing and make being in this country illegally a felony.

Bush said up to 6,000 National Guard members will be deployed to the border with Mexico and that the number of Border Patrol officers will be increased by 6,000 by the end of 2008.

The president also proposed a temporary worker program that would create “a legal path for foreign workers to enter out country in an orderly way.”

He also called for employers “to account for the workers they hire” and the creation of a new high-tech identification cards for every legal foreign worker.

AP-ES-05-15-06 2109EDT