- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

For a sense of why President Bush has been unable to sway conservatives on his immigration policies, look no further than Stephen Dinan’s front-page report in yesterday’s editions: “The U.S. Border Patrol increased at a faster rate and apprehended more illegal aliens per year under President Clinton than under President Bush.” Mr. Dinan goes on to report that the Clinton administration increased Border Patrol agents and pilots by 126 percent during his eight-year administration, which came to an average of 642 per year. In contrast, the six-year Bush administration has averaged 411 agents per year for a total increase of 22.3 percent, according to a Congressional Research Service report to the House Judiciary Committee.

Put plainly, when Mr. Bush talks tough on border security and enforcement, conservatives don’t believe him, and they have the facts to back them up. Last week’s address to the nation, during which Mr. Bush proposed adding 6,000 Border Patrol agents by 2007, wasn’t the first time he’s made such a promise. When one considers that it was just a couple of years ago when Mr. Bush promised to add 2,000 agents every year for the next five years, only to submit a 2006 budget calling for only 210, it’s no wonder why conservatives remain wary.

Conservatives have taken the hint that the White House doesn’t particularly care about border security. Although we rarely give credence to the left’s tired shibboleth that Mr. Bush is beholden to Big Business, in the case of immigration, that’s clearly been the case. As long as conservatives see him as such, the president will never win solid support for his immigration policies.

All of which is to say that Mr. Bush needs some bona fides on border security and enforcement. A recent CNN poll found that 66 percent of the public favors increasing penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants. Here’s one instance where the administration can reverse its abysmal record on employer sanctions, which dropped from 417 who had been fined for hiring illegal aliens in 1999 to just three in 2004. Mr. Bush should call for stricter employer sanctions and for increasing the number of federal investigators looking into those cases.

That’s not all. Mr. Bush should endorse the House immigration bill’s proposed 700-mile fence along the southern border, instead of the Senate’s 370-mile version. That’s still less than half of what’s required, but an improvement nonetheless. Also, the administration should stop advertising how many illegal aliens it has apprehended and start telling Americans how many it has deported. Mr. Bush’s trumpeting of his administration’s arrest and deportation of 6 million illegal aliens is actually a decline compared to any five-year period under Mr. Clinton. Once that number begins to rise in a significant way, then the administration can claim progress.

Action, not words, will convince conservatives that the president is serious about border security.

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