Bush, GOP senators trim border fence goal

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Six months after approving a bill promising to build some 850 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bush administration and Senate Republicans are now saying 370 miles is enough.

In his negotiations with Republican senators, Mr. Bush also appears to have rejected the key compromise in the Senate bill passed last year: allowing only longtime illegal aliens with “roots” to have a path to citizenship. He instead favors a more circuitous path that is open to almost all illegal aliens.

Mr. Bush has embraced higher financial penalties for illegal aliens who want to remain in the United States, and for the first time has accepted specific “triggers,” including stepped-up enforcement, that must be met before legalization and guest-worker plans go into effect, according to a PowerPoint presentation that administration officials and advisers say represents the state of discussions between Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans.

The presentation, first obtained and released by U.S. News & World Report, calls for 370 miles of fencing, 200 miles of vehicle barriers and 300 miles of electronic monitoring on the border. By that trigger, the guest-worker and legalization programs could begin with less than 900 miles of the 1,950-mile U.S.-Mexico border being monitored or blocked.

“Traditional fencing is an important part of the overall border security strategy,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. He said fencing is most effective in metropolitan areas and that sensors, ground-based radar and unmanned aerial vehicles are adequate in remote locations. Mr. Bush’s proposed budget called for $1 billion to be invested in infrastructure and technology on the border next year, he said.

Some Republicans are annoyed that Mr. Bush appears ready to ignore mandates of the Secure Fence Act.

“I drafted that bill. It says ‘shall.’ That’s the same language we put in the border fence in San Diego,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican. “Doggone it, this is the law. Follow the law.”

Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the 370 miles is based on an assessment of how much fencing can be put into place by the end of 2008. CBP also expects to erect about 200 miles of vehicle barriers along the border, he said.

“The infrastructure piece is not a stand-alone effort. Infrastructure is very much part of a strategy that includes the right mix of personnel and technology, and those three components make up our border security strategy,” Mr. Friel said.

In addition to the triggers, Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans appear to have agreed on:

• Beginning registration of illegal aliens six months after a bill passes, and giving them one year to register for the program, which puts them on “probation.”

• Huge fines, including $2,000 assessed every three years during probation and $10,000 for a green card signifying legal permanent residency.

• Moving up the English requirements to take effect after three years of probation. The requirements now begin with a citizenship application.

• Barring many illegal aliens from collecting Social Security benefits based on work performed while illegal.

• Prohibiting future guest workers from bringing their families, as a way of making sure they don’t put down roots and try to remain past their temporary work period.

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