President Visits Arizona to Promote Border Plans

President Bush visited Yuma, Ariz., on Thursday to promote his border and immigration initiatives. Yuma is a frontline in the battle over immigration. The president said it was good to see a part of the border that used to be "overrun," but has "settled down."

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DAVID GREENE reporting:

I'm David Greene, traveling with President Bush. Yesterday, the president went to Yuma, Arizona. And if he was trying to get an idea of life along the Mexican border, he picked a good day. It was hot and dry and the sun was beating down without a cloud in the sky.

Because of the less than forgiving climate, many of the people who have tried to elude border enforcement agents and cross in from Mexico have perished in the heat. The president said he was glad he flew out to examine the situation.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: 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 like riding in the dune buggy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Yes, at one point, reporters and photographers were hustled over to a patch of desert so the president could put on a little show. He sat in the passenger seat of a border patrol sand buggy that's used to cross the rough desert terrain. Mr. Bush whizzed by twice in the vehicle, smiling and waving for the cameras.

The White House said openly that he didn't come there to deliver a new message on immigration. No, this was a day for pictures.

Beyond the buggy ride, he did several brief television network interviews with the border as his backdrop, and he stood with border patrol officials, gazing over at Mexico as the cameras clicked away.

Back at the border patrol station a few miles away, the president said he's committed to beefing up security, even if it means building more fences between the U.S. and Mexico.

President BUSH: 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. And we saw lighting. You know, 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.

GREENE: The White House, yesterday, said Mr. Bush now backs a proposal in the Senate to build 370 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico. Previously, Mr. Bush had been cool to the idea of extensive fencing, saying that walling off the border is not the best solution. He mostly supported fences in urban areas. The president appears to be shifting in hopes of winning over House conservatives, who are laser-focused on beefing up security along the southwest border.

And that's, in large part, what this visit was about, too. The White House hopes the images of Mr. Bush at a heavily fortified border crossing can give conservatives some political cover, so they can tell voters this election season that their president is trying to tighten what some view as a porous border. The White House needs some of those conservatives to, in turn, support the President's plan that would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. But House conservatives remain against that idea and have shown little sign of budging.

David Greene, NPR News.

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