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Bush Visits Border, Urges Senate Action

Times Staff Writer

Declaring that “we do not have full control of the border,” President Bush on Thursday visited an area where arrests -- and deaths -- of illegal immigrants have risen dramatically, and he urged the Senate to complete work on immigration legislation by the end of the month.

The president spent roughly an hour inspecting the arid and stark border, marked by a 20-foot-tall corrugated metal structure, an 8-foot chain-link fence topped by razor-sharp concertina wire, powerful lights, watchtowers and video cameras -- an ever-growing low- and high-tech arsenal deployed in a sector where the Border Patrol says the most apprehensions have occurred.

Then, speaking to officers at their headquarters here about 20 miles north of the border, Bush said 6,000 National Guard troops were needed to help secure the border while the Border Patrol is beefed up over the next two years because “the need to enforce the border is urgent.”

“It’s time to get immediate results,” Bush said.

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The president’s daylong journey, three days after he announced the National Guard deployment, was designed to highlight his newly emphasized commitment to the immigration issue.

But he is caught between people, including some governors, who argue that border duty would overtax the National Guard -- which has sent many units to Iraq and is designated to deal with disasters at home -- and people who demand a more muscular effort along the border.

Some critics also express concern that the border is becoming militarized.

“The Guard will operate surveillance and communications systems. They will install fences and vehicle barriers. They’re going to help build patrol roads, they will analyze intelligence, they will help spot people. But the Border Patrol will be involved in direct law enforcement,” Bush said.

Seeking to draw attention to his call for broad legislation to overhaul the immigration laws, rather than legislation that would just clamp down on illegal border crossings, Bush sat in near-100-degree heat for five consecutive television interviews, with the chain-link fence to his left and a Border Patrol vehicle behind him.

The president flew nearly nine hours round-trip, approximately 4,400 miles, for the roughly three-hour visit to the southwest corner of Arizona.

He was accompanied by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who has largely supported his immigration efforts; David V. Aguilar, the chief of the Border Patrol; and the patrol’s local chief, Ron Colburn.

Bush spent about 10 minutes in a barren field in the town of San Luis, a few hundred feet from the international border, touring the area in a two-seat dune buggy.

Richard T. Hays, a supervising Border Patrol agent, told White House pool reporters that before the chain-link fence, lights and cameras were installed, 70 to 80 people would cross at a time. The new measures have reduced the incursions, he said, although the region remains the patrol’s busiest.

In addition to deploying the National Guard and increasing the Border Patrol 50%, to 18,000, by 2008, the president favors a guest worker program that would allow legal entrance for a certain period -- thus removing an incentive to sneak across the border.

Under the program, Bush said, workers would be required to pass a criminal background check and would be given tamper-proof identification cards.

He favors a path to citizenship for those who have lived in the United States for an as-yet-unstated period and who have paid taxes and a fine for entering the country illegally.

“This is a rational way to deal with people who are God-fearing, decent people and respect their dignity at the same time,” Bush said.

But, he added, “nobody should be given an automatic citizenship -- that’s called amnesty.”

As Bush headed to Yuma on Thursday morning, the White House sent Congress a revision in its $92-billion request for emergency spending, most of it to cover costs associated with military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Within that amount, it is seeking $1.95 billion to meet the costs of deploying 1,000 new Border Patrol agents, fences, lights, and some of the border work of the National Guard.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector was “emblematic of what we’re talking about in terms of border security.”

He told reporters aboard Air Force One: “We’ve got an area with the fence; we’ve got Border Patrol there. But also this is an area where National Guardsmen are involved in non-law-enforcement roles.”

With increased enforcement along the border in eastern Arizona, there has been a surge in attempts to enter the United States in western Arizona, near Yuma.

The 96,000 arrests along the Border Patrol’s 125-mile-wide Yuma sector since Oct. 1 represent a 13% increase over the same period a year ago.

And deaths in the desert, beyond the fortified zone, were a record 51 in 2005, up from 15 two years earlier.

Yuma, a city of nearly 89,000, has struggled with unemployment for years. A recent improvement has seen the jobless rate drop to 21.8%, from 25.2% in 2002 and even higher several years earlier. The biggest employer is the Marine Corps Air Station.

With a growth rate of 49.7% during the 1990s, it ranked behind only Las Vegas and Naples, Fla., as the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country.


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