News & Policies >
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 18, 2006
President Bush Discusses Border Security and Immigration Reform in Arizona
Yuma Sector Border Patrol Headquarters
12:51 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much for allowing me to come by and say hello. It's good to be here in Yuma. I'd never been to Yuma before. (Laughter.) I'd like to come back. It's a hospitable place with good weather. (Laughter.) Remember, I was raised in West Texas. (Laughter.)
I've come down here to first of all thank the men and women of the Border Patrol for doing a fine job on behalf of the American people. A lot of time you don't get the credit you deserve, but there's a lot of folks who understand how hard you work. And we really appreciate it. So on behalf of a grateful nation, thanks for doing an important job. (Applause.)
I'm down here to talk about the immigration issue. And this is an important issue. It really is. It's an important debate our country is having. We need to have -- we need to secure our border, and we need fair and effective immigration laws. The other night I spoke to the country about the way I see it, and I'm looking forward to working with the United States Congress to get something done.
There's a lot of politics in Washington, D.C. And it's time to get rid of all the politics and do what's right for the United States of America and help you do your job. And that's why I've come to this part of the world. I wanted to hear firsthand from David and Ronald Colburn what they need to get the job done, and where we're making progress and where we aren't making progress.
I think it helps to have the President out here, seeing the part of the area of the country that one time was overrun by people coming in here, that's beginning to get settled down because of a strategy that's being employed. And so I really want to thank you all for greeting me. Plus I liked riding in the dune buggy. (Laughter.)
I appreciate very much your governor for being here. Governor Napolitano is with us today. Thank you very much for coming. I'm honored you're here. She's an important person as part of helping to implement this strategy -- after all, she's the commander-in-chief of the Arizona National Guard. And I'm going to talk a little bit about the Guard's presence here on the border to help the Border Patrol do its job.
But I also want to thank the members of the United States Congress who flew out here with me. It's a good bunch, a little rambunctious at times, but they're -- I enjoy being with them. I call them friends. Congressmen Kolbe, Hayworth, Shadegg, Flake and Franks -- appreciate you guys taking time out of your day to come down. You care a lot about your state, and you care a lot about this issue. And I appreciate you being here.
I want to thank Senator Ken Bennett. He's the president of the Arizona Senate. Senator, you didn't need to come down here, but I'm grateful you did. And I also want to thank Speaker Weiers for being here, as well. I appreciate your interest in the subject. The mayor -- Mayor Larry Nelson is with us. Mr. Mayor, thank you for coming.
I want to thank all the other state and local officials. I want to thank Major General David Rataczak. He's the head of the Arizona National Guard. We're going to be working with our Guard. Don't go overboard for the guy. (Laughter.) We're going to be working closely with our Guard around the country to help the Border Patrol do its job.
I want to thank all the folks who are here for taking time out of your day to give me a chance to come and visit. I particularly want to thank the local law enforcement officials, as well.
I understand that illegal immigration is a serious problem. And one of our jobs in public office is to fix problems, is to deal with a problem in a rational way and not pass them on to other people. And I spoke to the country the other night because I want to fix the problem. And I want to work with people in Washington to do so. People here know firsthand that illegal immigration puts big pressure on our local communities, puts pressures on the schools, puts pressures on the hospitals, puts pressure on the state and local budgets, puts pressures on your penal system. I know that.
Our country is a country of laws, and we've got to enforce our laws. But we're also a nation of immigrants. And we've got to remember that proud tradition, as well, which has strengthened our country in many ways. These are not contradictory goals to remember our heritage and uphold our laws. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time.
There's a debate in Washington, and the House started the debate by passing a strong enforcement bill last December. And now the Senate is debating. And I do want to compliment the senators from this state -- Senator McCain and Senator Kyl -- for taking the lead. They understand the importance of getting this issue solved, and they're on the floor of the Senate debating a good immigration bill. And they've offered thoughtful proposals for which I am grateful.
The Senate needs to get the bill out, and get it to what they call the conference committee so we can work hard to iron out the differences between the House and the Senate. I support -- strongly support a comprehensive reform bill, though. It needs to have five key elements to it.
First, as I mentioned to you, we're going to secure our borders. That is the duty of our country. It's a sovereign responsibility. We want the border to be open to trade and lawful immigration, and we want our borders shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals and drug dealers and terrorists. That's the objective.
You might remember I was the governor of a border state, so I understand how big the border is. I would suggest to members of Congress as they debate this issue that they ought to come down and take a look at the border, see what it's really like. It requires an intense focus of resources and assets in order to secure this border. It also requires a comprehensive strategy, as well.
Since I became the President we've increased funding for our border security by 66 percent. That's helped upgrade equipment, infrastructure. Border Patrol agents have gone from 9,000 -- about 9,000 to nearly 12,000, a significant increase of Border Patrol agents so that we can have more people in the front lines of doing our duty.
Here we've added about -- more than 100 Border Patrol agents in the Yuma sector in the last year. In other words, people are beginning to see, those on the front line of protecting the border are beginning to see additional agents coming on board. That's about an increase of 20 percent to more than 660 agents. This border -- this sector was overwhelmed at one time from people coming across illegally. I understand that. And one way to help deal with that problem is to increase the number of agents on the front line, which is what the leadership of the Border Patrol has done.
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. We saw lighting. I just saw the cameras in place where we're beginning to install -- modernize the border is what I'm telling you. We're in the process of making our border the most technologically advanced border in the world.
Interestingly enough, I don't think enough Americans know this, but over the past five years, federal agents, like our Border Patrol agents, have apprehended and sent home about 6 million people -- 6 million people since 2001 have come into this country illegally. I mean, we've got some people working hard.
Last year, agents in the Yuma sector apprehended more than 70,000 illegal entrants. That's up from 14 percent [sic]. People's work is making a difference, but we do not have full control of the border. And that's what I want you all to understand I realize, and a lot of people in Congress realize.
And so here's the part -- here's the strategy. We're going to increase our Border Patrol by another 6,000 agents that will have doubled the Border Patrol from 2001. We should have those agents on line by 2008. We're going to make sure we continue to be wise about how we enable you to do your job better, with technologies and high-tech fences in urban corridors and patrol roads and barriers in rural areas and motion sensors, infrared cameras, unmanned aerial vehicles. All the equipment is aimed to enable the Border Patrol to do their job. We're adding additional equipment which will enable the 18,000 Border Patrol agents we'll have in place to be able to effectively control this border.
It's going to take time to get the technology in place, and it's going to take time to train the Border Patrol agents. And yet, the need to enforce the border is urgent, and that's why, in coordination with our governors, we're going to send 6,000 National Guard troops to be deployed on the southern border.
Now, the reason why I think this strategy is important is because deploying the 6,000 troops to complement the work of the Border Patrol will get immediate results. And it's time to get immediate results. And so I want to thank governors like Janet for her understanding about the need to utilize assets to do our job, to enforce the border.
The Guard is going to support border control efforts. And the Border Patrol, of course, will be in the lead. The Guard will operate surveillance and communications systems. They will install fences and vehicle barriers. They're going to help build patrol roads. They'll analyze intelligence. They will help spot people. But the Border Patrol will be involved in direct law enforcement. The Guard is going to free up agents to be in direct contact with those trying to sneak across. It is -- the Guard is complementary. The Guard makes it easier for the Border Patrol to do its job.
And the initial commitment will last for about a year for the 6,000 for the Guard, and after that, the forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new equipment comes online.
There are more than 400 Guard members deployed along the southwest border. In other words, this is something we've tried. This isn't anything new. The governor has deployed Guard down here before. We've got Guard already helping the Border Patrol right now. The missions are directly related to their specific skills. In this sector, men and women from the Arizona Guard are assisting with communications and intelligence. Guard personnel from Pennsylvania and Ohio are helping install new infrastructure and technology.
So the strategy I'm announcing -- I announced last Monday has already started to work. State and local law enforcement in border communities are also a part of the strategy. And so we're going to draw on their expertise and provide new resources. We're going to increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the Border Patrol on targeted law enforcement missions. The federal government isn't telling you what to do. But we are saying that if you choose to help the Border Patrol, that you'll be reimbursed for targeted enforcement missions. And we're going to help -- we'll give state and local authorities specialized training to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants.
As we catch more people crossing the border illegally, we got to make sure they're all returned home. And one of the problems we've had here in the border, that Border Patrol agents will tell you, is the problem of catch and release. Now, more than 85 percent of illegal immigrants caught -- who get caught crossing the border are from Mexico. And they're sent home within 24 hours, and that's good. Part of having a secure border is people have got to understand when you're caught, you're sent home.
But the problem is, is that it's not so easy to send home illegal immigrants from other countries. For many years, we didn't have enough space in detention facilities. You all know that. And so what would happen is, somebody would get caught, the Border Patrol would do their job, they'd work hard to enforce the border, and some of the -- a judge would say, show back up, we'll see you back here in 30 days. Well, guess what? There was nobody back in 30 days. They went and headed into society. We've got to stop that practice. In order to make sure the Border Patrol is effective and do their jobs, I can't think of, frankly, anything more discouraging than to be out there doing -- working as hard as you possibly can, apprehend somebody, and the next thing you know, they're let back out.
And so we're going to add detention facilities. We'll continue to -- we've added some already, we're going to continue to add more. We're going to expedite the legal process to cut the average deportation time. And the State Department, along with the White House, is going to continue to work with governments to say, look, we want you to take these folks back; you've got to make sure that when we start sending them back that you take them back.
And we're making some pretty good progress. We've caught -- we've ended catch and release for illegal immigrants from some countries. And so I'm going to ask country for funding and legal authority to end catch and release at the southern border once and for all for all countries.
I strongly believe that to have -- secure the border, we need to have a temporary worker program. And the reason why I do, is I understand there are many people on the other side of the border who will do anything to come and work. And that includes risking their life crossing your desert, or being willing to be stuffed in the back of an 18-wheeler. I believe in order for the Border Patrol to be able to effectively do their job, we've got to have a plan in place that will reduce the people who are trying to sneak across.
A temporary worker program would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter a country in an orderly way for a limited period of time. A temporary worker program would reduce the number of people trying to sneak across. A temporary worker program would reduce the appeal of human smugglers. There's a whole industry that has sprung up that traffics in human beings, that degrades the human soul. Coyotes -- that's a familiar word here in this part of the world. A lot of people around the country don't understand what a coyote is, but they're somebody who, for money, will smuggle people into the United States so they can work.
We want to know who is coming in the country, and who is not coming in the country. And so I think it makes sense to say, if someone is willing to do a job Americans aren't doing, here's a temporary way to come and work; here's a tamper-proof card, so you don't have to sneak across the border, you could walk across the border, and you can do that work, and when your time is up, you go home.
Now these people are going to have to pass a criminal background check, but we've got to recognize there are people here doing jobs Americans aren't doing. You know it as well as anybody in this part of the world. And it seems like to me there ought to be an orderly way, a rational way to deal with those workers with a temporary work plan.
And by the way, issuing a card, a tamper-proof card, will make it easier for us to enforce the law in the interior of our country. It is against the law for an employer to hire somebody who is here illegally. That's the law of the United States. We're a nation of laws, we'll uphold the laws, but how can you ask employers to uphold the laws when they're not sure whether the documents they're looking at are fraudulent?
So not only has the current immigration system caused a whole smuggling industry to come up, but there's also a document forgery industry. We want our employers to be able to be confident about who they're hiring. That's why we need a tamper-proof ID card, based upon modern biometrics.
Fourth, it is important to resolve the status of million [sic] illegal immigrants who are here already. First of all, in this debate there should be -- nobody should be given an automatic citizenship -- that's called amnesty. I oppose amnesty. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully, to those who have played by the rules. Amnesty would undermine the rule of law. And amnesty would invite a further wave of illegal immigrants.
There are some in this country who believe we ought to deport everybody who has been here. I just don't think it's going to work. I don't think it makes sense. And so I believe there's a rational middle ground between automatic citizenship and a program of mass deportation.
And here it is: First, it's important for the law to distinguish between someone who has crossed the border illegally recently and someone who has worked here for many years and has a home and raised a family and has a clean record. For that person, the person who has got roots in our country, I believe that person should pay a meaningful fine, pay their taxes, learn English, prove they've worked in a job for a number of years, and then that person should be able to apply for citizenship, but would not be granted an automatic citizenship, but instead would be at the end of the citizenship line.
In other words, people have been here legally, somebody who pays their dues, pays their taxes, pays a fine, proven to be a good citizen, they get at the end of the line. Someone said, well, that's amnesty -- that's not amnesty. Amnesty is automatic citizenship. This is a rational way to deal with people who are God-fearing, decent people, and respect their dignity at the same time.
Fifth, we've got to honor the great American tradition of the melting pot. Americans are bound together by shared ideals and appreciation of our history, of respect for our flag and ability to speak the English language. There's certain things that unite us, no matter where we're from, or what our background has been.
I want people to understand, as we go through this debate, that I fully understand English is the key to unlocking opportunity in America. Part of the greatness of America is that we've been able to help assimilate people into our society, people from all kinds of backgrounds who have come here to seek a better life and become American, because we have the capacity to assimilate.
And part of that assimilation process is English. I believe this: If you learn English, and you're a hard worker, and you have a dream, you have the capacity from going from picking crops to owning the store, or from sweeping office floors to being an office manager. That's been the greatness of America, when you think about it. People have come here with a dream, and have worked hard, and realized that dream.
And yet, because we're from different backgrounds, we've all been able to be one America, one nation under God. And so part of a rational immigration plan has got to remember that helping people assimilate into our society is a really important part of making sure we have an immigration system that works.
I strongly believe that Congress needs to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, because you cannot secure the border unless you have all elements of a comprehensive plan in place. Doing our duty to secure the border requires a comprehensive approach. The United States Senate needs to end by the act -- act by the end of this month. They need to do their duty and get a bill out so we can get on about the business of getting a comprehensive bill to my desk.
We have a duty in Washington, D.C. to conduct this debate with dignity and honor. Immigration is an emotional issue. Sometimes people get carried away on the issue, and they -- in doing so, they forget the greatness of our country, that we are a land of immigrants; that we've always been a haven for better opportunity; that we welcome people who are willing to abide by our laws and work hard and raise their family and trust in the Almighty. America's greatness has been and always will be the fact that we are one nation under God.
Thanks for letting me come by. (Applause.)
END 1:15 P.M. PDT