WASHINGTON -- Broadening his administration's crackdown on illegal immigration, President Clinton vowed yesterday to press for the deportation of up to 100,000 illegal aliens caught in a huge backlog of pending cases and to step up enforcement of immigration laws at the border and in the courts.
"Our nation was built by immigrants," Mr. Clinton said in his weekly radio address to the nation. "But we won't tolerate immigration by people whose first act is to break the law as they enter our country."
He said he has ordered the Justice Department to act immediately to eliminate the backlog of deportation cases, even if it means asking Congress for more money to do the job.
His tough talk on immigration echoes a theme from his State of the Union message and underscores an issue likely to loom large in the 1996 presidential campaign.
Last week, the Clinton administration sent to Congress an immigration-control bill that would expand the U.S. Border Patrol, speed the deportation of illegal aliens, crack down on people who smuggle them into the country and take other steps that have generally received bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
"The proposal helps achieve our three most important goals: to control our nation's borders, to remove illegal aliens, and to punish those who profit most from illegal immigration," Attorney General Janet Reno said of the administration's bill.
Mr. Clinton's proposals, as well as his remarks yesterday, focus only on illegal immigration.
In discussing the deportation backlog, he said: "If it takes extra judges, we'll ask Congress for the money to get them. We cannot justify continuing to have this large number of illegal aliens in our country simply because our court system won't process them."
The government has been deporting illegal aliens at an average rate of about 40,000 a year. To step up the pace, the president called for increased vigilance in deporting illegal aliens who find their way into the criminal justice system.
Mr. Clinton called for increased use of deportation as a condition of plea bargaining with illegal aliens. The U.S. attorney's office in San Diego already uses that approach, which is expected to result in the deportation of 800 to 1,000 illegal immigrants from Southern California this year.
Mr. Clinton wants U.S. attorneys nationwide to adopt the plea-bargaining strategy.
He has asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to devise a plan, in cooperation with state authorities, for identifying illegal aliens who defy orders to leave the country.
That effort will target "hundreds of thousands of people who have been ordered to leave the country who then disappear back into the population," Mr. Clinton said.
His immigration-control bill calls for increasing the Border Patrol by 700, to almost 5,700 next year. Already, Mr. Clinton said, his administration has increased the Border Patrol by 51 percent over two years, by 60 percent on the Southwest border alone.
In El Paso, Texas, he said, border guards are stationed so close together they can see each other.
"We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws," the president said. "And it is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years."