- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

President Bush yesterday pledged to follow through on building 698 miles of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border but said that the Department of Homeland Security will decide where and that he wants sensors and cameras to watch the border.

“We’re going to do both,” Mr. Bush said at a press conference yesterday. “We’re just going to make sure that we build it in a spot where it works.”

Some fence advocates and members of Congress have questioned Mr. Bush’s commitment to fencing. The president yesterday said it is a part of his broader border-security strategy.

“You can’t fence the entire border, but what you can do is you can use a combination of fencing and technology to make it easier for the Border Patrol to enforce our border,” he said.

Mr. Bush said any solution on the border will also require a guest-worker program, which he said would funnel workers through legal points of entry.

Mr. Bush last week signed the homeland-security spending bill, which includes $1.2 billion for fencing and other infrastructure, such as cameras, vehicle barriers and ground-based radar.

He has also promised to sign the Secure Fence Act, which Congress passed last month and which authorizes 698 miles of wall along the border. That bill passed 283-138 in the House and 80-19 in the Senate.

As of Tuesday, the bill had not been transmitted to the White House for the president to sign, and groups that advocate for rights for illegal aliens are urging Mr. Bush to veto it.

Yesterday, the Catholic Church joined that call in a letter from Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He said that fencing could cause the death of illegal aliens trying to sneak into the country and that it “would send the wrong signal to our peaceful neighbor to the south, Mexico, as well as the international community.”

Mr. Bush’s pledge of support for the fence bill drew praise from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who said illegal immigration is “a clear threat to our safety.”

House Republicans consider passage of the fence bill a major victory in their push for an enforcement-first policy and are campaigning across the country on the accomplishment.

“It should concern the American people that 131 Democrats voted against creating this security fence along our southern border,” Mr. Hastert said yesterday. “They don’t want border security; instead, they would rather jeopardize our national security and put Americans at risk.”

By contrast, Mr. Bush has been silent about immigration as he campaigns and raises funds for Republican candidates.

There is no official cost estimate for all 698 miles of wall. Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, has estimated that this year’s funding bill will cover about 150 miles.

In a last-minute deal, congressional leaders did grant the administration discretion in places where they determine a fence is not practical or the best use of resources.

Mr. Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said they will revisit the issue in a lame-duck legislative session later this year.

Some fence advocates have feared that the administration won’t follow through on the construction.

Last week, after a report in The Washington Post indicated that the Department of Homeland Security would not commit to building all 700 miles of fence, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff telling him that building the fence is not optional.

A report accompanying the fence bill says Congress will withhold $950 million until it approves an administration plan for how it will spend the $1.2 billion included in the bill for infrastructure. Mr. Bush said last week that such a move violates the separation of powers and that he will consider that a request rather than a mandate.

Meanwhile, Mexican government officials have sent a diplomatic note to Washington protesting the fence and have said they may complain to the United Nations.

Mr. Bush yesterday said he will follow through in “implementing that which Congress has funded, in a way that says to folks, the American people, we’ll enforce the border.”

But he also said a guest-worker program is critical.

“If somebody is not trying to sneak in to work, in other words, coming through in a way where they’re showing a temporary-worker pass, where they’re not using coyotes to smuggle across, where they’re not going through tunnels, it’s going to make it much easier for us to do our job,” he said.

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