- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

SAN LUIS, Ariz. — President Bush yesterday stopped at the same border town that he visited a year ago — where apprehensions of illegal aliens have dropped by 68 percent since new fences were built and the National Guard called in — to urge Congress to pass his comprehensive immigration reform plan.

Standing alongside huge double fences and high-powered lights on a dusty desert road, the president said, “There is still more work to be done, but nevertheless, a lot of progress is being made.”

“I was most impressed by your strategy, but more impressed by the fact that it’s now being implemented,” Mr. Bush told border officials at the site, where, he said, “a lot of people came charging across.”

Since June, the National Guard has been in nearby Yuma and along the U.S.-Mexico border in other areas as part of Operation Jump Start. Border apprehensions in the Yuma sector have dropped 68 percent since last year, down from 79,000 to 25,000, said David V. Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.

“Securing the border is a critical part of a strategy for comprehensive immigration reform. It is an important part of a reform that is necessary so that the Border Patrol agents down here can do their job more effectively,” the president said.

Despite frosty relations with the Democrat-controlled Congress, Mr. Bush urged lawmakers to move forward with his five-point plan, the centerpiece of which is a guest-worker program that would give the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States legal status and a path to citizenship.

“Congress is going take up the legislation on immigration. It is a matter of national interest, and it’s a matter of deep conviction for me. I’ve been working to bring Republicans and Democrats together to resolve outstanding issues so that Congress can pass a comprehensive bill and I can sign it into law this year,” he said to applause.

After running into fierce opposition from his own party — which failed to pass the legislation when it controlled both chambers of Congress — the White House has overhauled its immigration reform plan. A draft sent out to advocacy groups and top Republican lawmakers calls for work visas to be granted to illegals but would require hefty fines and that they leave the U.S. briefly. They could then apply for three-year work visas, dubbed “Z” visas, which would be renewable indefinitely but cost $3,500 each time, and would eventually be able to apply for citizenship.

The revealed plan prompted thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets of Los Angeles on Saturday in protest.

The president’s trip yesterday was targeted at members of his own party, who have opposed his guest-worker program. He was joined by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, whose support is key to any deal in Congress.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, applauded the effort, saying, “President Bush did the right thing today by speaking out.”

“Only a bipartisan bill will become law,” Mr. Kennedy said. “There is a lot of common ground, especially in the need to strengthen our borders and enforce our laws, though important differences remain to be resolved.”

Accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the president made several stops along the border before delivering a speech in Yuma. He first viewed an unmanned Predator plane, which is used to watch the borders.

Mr. Bush and top White House staff then drove along a dusty stretch of desert road along the border, viewing sections where double fences have been installed — a 15-foot fence, then a 20-foot, virtually unscalable fence. Along the way, he had briefings on fence posts with “fins” — long, flat steel flanges that are sunk into the ground to prevent tunneling underneath.

The president then walked over to a border truck that had four tires tied to its back bumper, which smooth the soft sand on the border so guards can see footprints.

In his speech later in Yuma, Mr. Bush stressed that security is the first line of defense.

If you don’t man your border and don’t protect your borders, people are going to sneak in.

“This problem has been growing for decades, and past efforts to address it have failed. These failures helped create a perception that America was not serious about enforcing our immigration laws and that they could be broken without consequence. … As a result, many people have been able to sneak into this country,” he said.

But he also said that the current system is broken and “you cannot fully secure the border until you take pressure off the border — and that requires a temporary worker program.”

“It is impractical to take the position that: ‘Oh, we’ll just find the 11 million or 12 million people and send them home.’ It’s just an impractical position; it’s not going to work. It may sound good. It may make nice sound-bite news. It won’t happen,” he said.

But offering illegal aliens a free ride also won’t happen, the president said.

“People who entered our country illegally should not be given amnesty. Amnesty is the forgiveness of an offense without penalty. I oppose amnesty, and I think most people in the United States Congress oppose amnesty,” he said to applause.

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