- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

ARTESIA, N.M. — President Bush yesterday said he sees a consensus building in Congress for the major elements of his immigration proposal, including a path to citizenship, and said the gap between the House and Senate is not that broad.

“While the differences grab the headlines, the similarities in approaches are striking,” Mr. Bush said. He was speaking at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in eastern New Mexico, which is where all U.S. Border Patrol agents train and which is the key to his making good on his promise to hire 6,000 new Border Patrol agents by 2008.

The president said everyone in the immigration debate agrees that the border needs to be secured, that the government needs to crack down on businesses that hire illegal aliens and that something must be done about the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the country.

“There’s a consensus, and we need to act on that broad consensus and deliver comprehensive reform that makes our system orderly, secure and fair,” he said.

House Republicans said Mr. Bush has made headway in convincing them he is serious about border security, but he has failed to sway them on granting citizenship to some illegal aliens.

After Mr. Bush in mid-May announced plans to increase the Border Patrol and deploy the National Guard, Rep. Steve Pearce, whose district includes the training academy, said the president didn’t go far enough. But yesterday, after flying with the president on Air Force One and being briefed by Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar, he said he thinks the administration has become serious about border security.

“They actually have begun to develop a comprehensive plan for securing the border, which we haven’t been able to see before,” Mr. Pearce, New Mexico Republican, said.

Despite Mr. Bush’s view that compromise is in the air, Mr. Pearce said he is still adamantly opposed to amnesty, which he described as when illegal aliens are given any path to citizenship.

“Sorry, but that’s the wrong message,” he said, adding that he would vote against a bill such as the one that came out of the Senate and includes the same path to citizenship Mr. Bush backs.

The Border Patrol academy in Artesia will determine whether Mr. Bush makes good on his pledge to hire 6,000 new Border Patrol agents by 2008. Currently there are about 11,300.

For the past few years, as members of Congress have tried to increase substantially the number of agents, they were told the academy simply couldn’t train that many. But the administration has announced it is ramping up operations here to handle Mr. Bush’s request, though a spokeswoman couldn’t say how much it has asked for in next year’s budget.

The academy currently can train 1,700 agents a year, and at peak capacity two years from now plans to be able to train 3,000 agents annually.

Only one in 30 applicants will make it to becoming a Border Patrol agent.

Before speaking yesterday, Mr. Bush reviewed part of the training in the 19-week course, including mock traffic stops. He then traveled to Laredo, Texas, to visit the Border Patrol sector headquarters there.

Also yesterday Mr. Bush seemed to float the idea of decreasing legal immigration overall by increasing the line for green cards and citizenship.

“If Congress is worried about the number of people getting in, they can decrease the number of green cards,” he said.

“You can control the size of the line by the number of green cards you issue. If you want a longer line for people, issue fewer green cards. If you want to shorten the line, issue more green cards,” he said.

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