The nation's already-stretched National Guard units are about to try and stretch themselves just a little more. President Bush wants to use the units to secure the 2,000 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.

The proposal will tap the state guard units at a time when many guardsmen have served multiple tours of Iraq, some in Afghanistan and helped patrol and clean up hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi.

The move is expected to win some support from conservatives who believe Mr. Bush is not tough enough on those who break the nation's immigration laws. He's not the only one. Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean has said patrolling the nation's borders for illegal entrants would be a top priority for his party.

He hopes it will build support for a guest worker program, a centerpiece of his immigration reform plan. Americans, although divided on guest worker and amnesty programs, seem to overwhelmingly want the borders to be tighter.

In a survey earlier this year, two-thirds of those Americans surveyed say it doesn't make sense to debate new immigration laws until we enforce existing border security laws. That same poll found 40 percent of the respondents thought it necessary to round up and deport the nation's 11 million illegal aliens.

While we believe securing the nation's borders is a worthwhile goal, militarizing them should not be part of the plan. Mr. Bush, through a spokesman, said the troops would be there in a non law enforcement role. Their jobs would be merely supportive.

If the intent is to be supportive, there are other non-military service groups or more border agents that could lend a hand here. We believe strongly that the guard units would be up to the task but a policy of stationing them on border patrol duty doesn't sound workable.

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