- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

YUMA, Ariz. — The Bush administration announced yesterday it supported the Senate amendment calling for 370 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first time it is has endorsed a specific amount of fencing.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters traveling on Air Force One yesterday he would not get into a discussion on whether the Bush administration would also support the fence proposed in last year’s House bill, which calls for 698 miles of fence to be built.

Hours later, after touring a section of the border at San Luis, Ariz., President Bush told an audience here at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Yuma that fences make sense — in some cases.

“We saw some new fencing taking place. It makes sense to use fencing along the border in key locations in order to do our job,” Mr. Bush said.

The administration yesterday sent to Congress a $1.9 billion immigration spending request, covering 1,000 of the 6,000 new Border Patrol agents Mr. Bush says will be hired over the next two years, and paying for temporary deployment of the 6,000 National Guard troops the president called for Monday.

He also gave his strongest praise yet of the full proposal now in the Senate, calling it “a good immigration bill.” That bill includes a right to citizenship for illegal aliens who have been in the country more than two years, and a future foreign worker program that would also offer a path to citizenship — something Mr. Bush’s own proposal does not do.

Some members of Congress, in looking over the new spending request, said Mr. Bush was late in realizing the need for more border enforcement.

“Let me get this straight: when it comes to border security, the president was against it before he was for it,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, reprising a line that haunted Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Mr. Byrd said Mr. Bush had opposed the senator’s efforts to boost immigration enforcement spending nine times since 2002, and questioned whether Mr. Bush is now sincere in his commitment.

“If we had spent that money beginning in 2002, we would not be calling on the National Guard today,” he said.

The announcements on the Guard and fences also have irked Mexican officials. Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez yesterday told reporters in Mexico City that his government would send a protest note to the U.S. about both proposals.

“There are 12 million Mexicans on the other side, 12 million people who live every day in anguish about the need for a reform to let them live peacefully,” Mr. Derbez said. Later yesterday, the foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica joined Mr. Derbez in Mexico City to denounce the proposed fences.

For his part yesterday, Mr. Bush spent time inspecting both a section of the international border with Mexico and the communications center at the Border Patrol station before giving a short speech on immigration.

Strikingly, the part of the border the president chose to review does have fencing — a two-layer fence, with a 20-foot-high corrugated metal fence right on the border line and a secondary chain-link fence with barbed wire strands at the top set 150 feet back. The chain-link fence is just months old, according to Border Patrol agents and residents here.

A road runs between the two fences, and is both patrolled by the Border Patrol and monitored by video so agents can detect illegal crossings.

The president wanted to get a look at both the border and National Guard troops who are already operating in the area doing the same sorts of tasks he wants his 6,000 new troops to do: building roads and laying foundations for high-intensity lights the Border Patrol will use.

But the area he chose also shows how far the government has to go until the border is secure. Illegal alien apprehensions in the Yuma Sector are up 12 percent this fiscal year to date, compared with the same time in fiscal year 2005. So far this year in the Yuma Sector, in addition to the apprehensions, the Border Patrol has rescued 280 persons in distress and found another 17 dead.

The Yuma Border Patrol station regularly records more apprehensions on a daily basis than any other station, said Supervisory Agent Richard T. Hays. He also said criminal smuggling organizations operate from the neighborhood just over the fence from where Mr. Bush stood yesterday.

The area is one of the few along the border here that has fencing. The Yuma Station — one of three stations in the Yuma Sector — has just 6.9 miles of fencing in its 65 miles of Mexican border.

Both the administration and the Border Patrol say fencing doesn’t make sense everywhere. Instead, Mr. Bush has called for a “virtual fence,” saying there is no way to fence off the entire border.

The Senate on Wednesday passed an amendment calling for 370 miles of fence to be built in places where there are many illegal crossings.

“We supported the amendment,” Mr. Snow said yesterday — the first time the administration has backed a specific mile figure.

“I don’t think anybody has seriously proposed building a wall across the entire border. What the president has said is he’s going to try to have the right and appropriate types of security in the right places,” Mr. Snow said.

Asked about the difference between that and the House bill, Mr. Snow said that was getting too far ahead of the process and the Senate must first act to pass its bill.

Still, fencing is so popular that the National Republican Senatorial Committee yesterday sent out press releases criticizing Democrats up for re-election who voted against the fence amendment.

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