- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

2:42 p.m.

President Bush this morning signed a law committing to nearly 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and pledging that the Department of Homeland Security will try to gain operational control of the nation’s borders within 18 months.

The signature, less than two weeks before the midterm elections, delighted congressional Republicans, who said it was about time the government got serious about enforcement, but infuriated Democrats and illegal alien rights groups, who said Mr. Bush abandoned his commitment to a more lenient illegal immigration policy.

“This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure,” Mr. Bush said at a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “It is an important step toward immigration reform.”

The bill calls for 698 miles of reinforced fencing and roads along some of the most porous parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, including much of Arizona. Right now there are 75 miles of fencing, with another 42 miles under construction, according to the White House.

Democrats said the bill signing was pure politics and ridiculed covering just 35 percent of the 2,000-mile-long border. They said the border situation has only gotten worse under Republican leadership, but said Mr. Bush blew a chance to do something about it.

“This bill to build a fence is a bumper-sticker solution that Republicans hope will provide cover for their stunning failure to produce comprehensive immigration reform,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “The president and this Congress had a historic opportunity to pass a tough but fair immigration reform plan this year, but instead, that chance was squandered by those Republicans who are more concerned about the ballot box than actually providing real solutions.”

Mr. Bush acknowledged the lack of enforcement, saying that “the United States has not been in complete control of its borders for decades,” but said the fence was just one part of the solution.

It’s a complicated issue for both political parties.

Even as Democrats said not enough has been done on immigration, most of them voted against the fence — the one bill that had a chance of passing this year.

Meanwhile, many Republicans are adamant about an enforcement-first policy, arguing that illegal immigration must be stopped before the nation deals with current illegal aliens or future workers. Mr. Bush and a minority of Republicans want to couple enforcement with a plan to offer citizenship rights to most illegal aliens.

“There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic pass to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation. And I look forward to working with Congress to find that middle ground,” Mr. Bush said at today’s ceremony.

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