- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

MISSION, Texas — President Bush squarely countered his legislative critics on immigration yesterday, telling the Congress to “do its duty” by passing a bill that includes a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

“I understand this border,” Mr. Bush said, standing just yards from the U.S.-Mexico border at Anzalduas County Park.

He proclaimed success on his pledge to dispatch 6,000 National Guard troops to the border states by Tuesday to help the U.S. Border Patrol and said it is making a dent in illegal entry. But he also said that enforcement alone isn’t enough to stem the flow and that a program for future temporary workers is needed.

Although not breaking much new ground, Mr. Bush’s speech signals that he is not backing down amid harsh criticism from House Republicans over his immigration policy.

“I expect the United States Congress to do its duty and pass comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.

Mr. Bush made no mention of proposals to delay a guest-worker and legalization program until after the borders are secure — a “trigger” approach that has gained favor among many of his key Senate allies on the issue.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and a major backer of a guest-worker program and path to citizenship, said that Mr. Bush is right to call for a broad bill but that he must get personally involved.

“We have a long and rocky road ahead to pass this plan through Congress and get it to the president’s desk,” Mr. Kennedy said. “To get there, I believe that President Bush must call congressional leaders to meet in September to hammer out the final plan.”

In the meantime, Mr. Bush and Congress have been working piece-by-piece on enforcement.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved nearly $2 billion to fund 370 miles of fence and hundreds of miles of vehicle barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. But another amendment to fund hundreds more Border Patrol agents, detention beds and other enforcement measures Congress already authorized failed on a parliamentary maneuver.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and sponsor of the second amendment, said that the fence was a good step but that Congress has to do more.

“We need to keep all of our commitments and address the deep public skepticism on immigration enforcement by funding other critical border security initiatives that have been authorized,” he said.

The top two Republican leaders in the House said in recent days that they are committed to an enforcement-first bill. They have scheduled nearly two dozen hearings nationwide this month to highlight problems with the Senate bill that Mr. Bush has praised.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Congress is leaning toward Mr. Bush’s position.

“Republicans in the House and Senate, I think, are working toward something that fits the president’s description of comprehensive reform,” Mr. Snow said.

After his speech yesterday, Mr. Bush traveled to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he will spend the next 10 days. This weekend, he will meet with the national security adviser and with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

He also plans to make some trips from Texas to campaign for Republican candidates running in November’s election.

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