- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

WACO, Texas — President Bush yesterday said he opposes a civilian project to monitor illegal aliens crossing the border, characterizing them as “vigilantes.”

He said he would pressure Congress to further loosen immigration law.

More than 1,000 people — including 30 pilots and their private planes — have volunteered for the Minuteman Project, beginning next month along the Arizona-Mexico border. Civilians will monitor the movement of illegal aliens for the month of April and report them to the Border Patrol.

Mr. Bush said after yesterday’s continental summit, with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin at Baylor University, that he finds such actions unacceptable.

“I’m against vigilantes in the United States of America,” Mr. Bush said at a joint press conference. “I’m for enforcing the law in a rational way.”

The Minuteman Project was born out of a long-held perception among many residents that more Border Patrol agents are needed to handle the flow of illegal immigrants.

Mr. Bush was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats earlier this month for failing to add 2,000 agents to the Border Patrol, as set out in the intelligence overhaul legislation he signed in December.

The president’s 2006 budget allows enough money to add only 210 agents for the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico.

Mr. Bush said he will “continue to push for reasonable, common-sense immigration policy.” He has proposed legislation to grant guest-worker status to millions of illegal aliens already in the United States.

The legislation has attracted scant support in Congress, where it is widely regarded as another amnesty that will encourage even more illegal immigration.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, says Democrats have been willing to work with Mr. Bush, but that first the president must persuade congressmen of his own party to embrace his plan.

“Unfortunately, the right wing of the president’s party continues to put forward proposals that neither help make progress towards comprehensive immigration reform, nor help truly protect our borders,” Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Fox, who has said he seeks an open border, has applied constant pressure on Mr. Bush to get the guest-worker program through Congress. Mr. Bush has pledged that he will do all he can.

Mr. Fox said yesterday that his country is dedicated to making sure border crossings are legal and orderly. “We discussed the issue of border crossings and how we can protect our borders and be efficient along the border.”

The official agenda of the one-day summit was centered on economic matters and the three leaders reached agreement on what they called the establishment of the “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America,” designed to build upon the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mr. Martin said he pressed Mr. Bush to get the United States to drop its ban on the importation of Canadian beef — imposed because of fears of spreading mad cow disease — and to reduce tariffs on softwood lumber, but no commitments were made.

Canada earlier this year said it would not participate in the U.S. missile-defense program, and Mr. Martin said there is little chance he would change his mind. “On [missile defense], the file is closed,” Mr. Martin said.

“But our cooperation in terms of defense, in terms of our borders, in terms of defense of our common — our frontiers is very — is not only very clear, but it is being accentuated.”

Mr. Bush said he had not imposed a June deadline on North Korea to rejoin talks with the United States, Russia, South Korea, Japan and China with the intention of North Korea giving up its nuclear-weapons program.

“I’m a patient person,” Mr. Bush said. “But the leader of North Korea must understand that when we five nations speak, we mean what we say.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report from Washington.