Republican officials are trying to turn back concerns that a plan to build a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in an attempt to gain control of one area of illegal immigration still will fail.
The denial came from the Republican National Committee, which said in a statement that the president is planning to sign the Secure Fence Act, which was approved by the House and Senate earlier.
"There has been some speculation in the blogosphere today that President Bush would not sign the Secure Fence Act, after signing a bill for funding border fencing last week," the RNC's Patrick Ruffini said. But that is incorrect, he said, and the president's intent remains the same.
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Just a few days ago, a Homeland Security budget including $1.2 billion to begin construction of fences and other barriers was approved by both the House and the Senate and signed by Bush. However, the actual allocation of money for the work would come in the Secure Fence Act, which remains filed under pending, officials said.
The concerns were raised in a number of venues.
A writer, Vincent Gioia, on the New Media ChronWatch.com said that the Homeland Security package was approved and "with great fanfare, the president signed the bill."
However, he said Congress and the president, "now, having mollified conservative critics with 'border protection first,'" probably feel free to deal with immigration as they want.
"Unfortunately, the claim of border protection beginning with the appropriation of over one billion dollars allegedly for that purpose is just a big hoax," he wrote. "Quickly following congressional funding authorization to construct 700 miles of Mexican border fence, and just before recessing, Congress enacted additional legislation to enable the president to thwart the will of most Americans who want to protect our Mexican border against illegal immigration."
He said the additional legislation would allow the president to allocate the $1.2 billion ostensibly for the fence to other projects, such as "tactical infrastructure."
He said Congress also promised that governors, local leaders and Native American tribes would be involved in the placement of any fence, and Congress also withheld $950 million pending a breakdown of how the money will be spent.
In other words, the fence plan is for the headlines, but the fine print is where the projects are made or broken.
In a significant indication that the fence is not the highest priority, just a day after signing the Homeland Security provision, Bush said granting citizenship to current illegal aliens still will be a needed part of any plan.
"You can't kick 12 million people out of your country," Bush said. "We must figure out a way to say to those that if you're lawful and if you've contributed to the United States of America, there is a way for you to eventually earn citizenship."
Meanwhile, Mexico officials have been pursuing an intense lobbying campaign to try to kill the fence plan. They had asked Bush to veto it, and even have threatened to go to the United Nations with their opposition.
Mexico Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said the fence plan is an "offense" and indicated the dispute could be brought before the U.N. Press Secretary Ruben Aguilar for President Vincente Fox, however, said in a report that wouldn't happen, but the fence wouldn't be built either.
Derbez said there will be a storm of international community criticism against the U.S. fence plan, and that will stop it.
Mexican officials have said they are recruiting various church and business groups in the U.S. to oppose fencing plans, and the government is broadcasting radio ads encouraging workers who have had a labor "accident" to pursue their rights in the U.S.
Mexican activists are comparing the plan to the Berlin Wall.
Republicans and immigration experts told the Washington Post that the House and Senate provided Bush enough leeway in the distribution of the money so that it may be spend on roads and technology too.
When Homeland Security department spokesman Russ Knocke was asked about the construction of 700 miles of fencing, he was non-committal, instead noting that a $67 million "virtual fence" project will be tested.
While another assurance came from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who wrote the fence provisions that passed last year and said the bill provides the fence "shall" be built, the president wasn't so definitive.
In his message when he signed the bill, he said the nearly $34 billion authorization for Homeland Security will "give us better tools to enforce our immigration laws and to secure our southern border."
"The bill I sign today includes nearly $1.2 billion in additional funding for strengthening the border, for new infrastructure and technology that will help us do our job. It provides funding for more border fencing, vehicle barriers, and lighting, for cutting-edge technology, including ground base radar, infrared cameras, and advance sensors that will help prevent illegal crossings along our southern border. That's what the people of this country want. They want to know that we're modernizing the border so we can better secure the border," Bush said.
"Yet, we must also recognize that enforcement alone is not going to work," he said. "We'll continue to work with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures this border, upholds the laws, and honors our nation's proud heritage as a land of immigrants."
U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, told the Houston Chronicle that the project has to be viewed in terms of the war on terror.
"The day will come when they attack us in Houston. I don't know why the terrorists haven't hit us, but it will come," he said.
Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said the Secure Fence Act is an emergency measure to provide for those 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing.
"There were many skeptics when I first started discussing the potential dangers associated with illegal immigration, and called for our government to secure the borders," he said. "Tonight, we take another momentous step toward ensuring our security."
But even he said the plan mandates a "virtual fence," not necessarily a physical one, that would involve remote cameras, ground sensors, aerial vehicles and surveillance technology.
On one of the those blogs where questions were being raised, Mickey Kaus said that Bush's promise during an interview on CNN that the bill would be signed wasn't reassuring.
The interviewer asked Bush if he would sign the plan.
"It's part of strengthening the border," he said. "And we're in the process now of spending the money that they appropriated last session to modernize the border."
"So, will you sign it into law?" the interviewer asked.
"One thing that has changed is catch and release. Prior to the expenditure of the money … we would catch somebody trying to sneak in and just release them back into society. That's been ended," Bush said.
Another commentator noted that House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Congress' effort along the border "culminated" in the appropriations plan Bush already signed.
"It would be crazy not to be paranoid," the commentator wrote.
The same scenario developed early in 2006. The Senate had approved the installation of 370 miles of fencing and about 500 miles of vehicle barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, but then voted against allowing any money to do the work.
Then just weeks later, senators reversed their July 13 position, approving a spending authorization on a 94-3 vote, with 66 senators switching from "no" to "yes," according to the The Washington Times.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said back then that people heard from their constituents after voting for the project, but against money to do it.