President visits border in Ariz.

He urges speedy OK for legislation

May 19, 2006|By JAMES GERSTENZANG | JAMES GERSTENZANG,LOS ANGELES TIMES

YUMA, Ariz. -- Declaring yesterday that "we do not have full control of the border," President Bush visited an area where arrests and deaths of would-be immigrants have risen sharply, and he urged the Senate to complete work on immigration legislation by the end of the month.

The president spent about an hour inspecting the arid and stark border sector marked by a 20-foot-tall corrugated metal structure, an 8-foot-high chain-link fence topped by razor-sharp concertina wire, powerful lights, watch towers and video cameras, all deployed in an area 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, he said 6,000 National Guard troops are 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.

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.

Bush is caught between those who are demanding a more muscular effort along the border and those - including some governors - who argue that border duty will overtax the National Guard, which has sent many units in Iraq and is designated to deal with disasters at home.

Some critics have also expressed 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 to proposals confined to clamping 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, covering about 4,400 miles, for the three-hour visit to the southwest corner of Arizona. He was accompanied by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who has largely supported his new immigration efforts; David Aguilar, the chief of the Border Patrol; and the patrol's local chief, Ron Colburn.

He spent about 10 minutes in a barren field in the town of San Luis, a few hundred feet from the border, touring the area in a two-seat dune buggy. "I liked riding in the dune buggy," he said later.

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's 12,000 personnel by 50 percent, the president favors a guest worker program that would allow immigrants to enter the country legally for a specific period and remove the incentive to sneak across the border.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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