President Pushes Immigration Bill with Border Visit

President Bush voices support for tightened border security on visits to New Mexico and Texas. But Republicans are resisting the president's call for an immigration bill that would give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush continued his tour of border states yesterday, pushing for new immigration legislation. On a visit to New Mexico and Texas, he spoke of progress being made on the bill, but would not cite any evidence that a compromise is in the works.

House conservatives continue to oppose giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. That's a key feature of the bill that the president prefers. Mr. Bush spent the night in Omaha, where he plans to speak at a Catholic charity that helps immigrants assimilate in their new communities.

NPR's David Greene is traveling with the president.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The president's first stop yesterday was the U.S. Border Patrol's training academy in dusty Artesia, New Mexico. The former governor of Texas said he felt right at home in this part of the world.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I knew I was in pretty good country when I saw the cowboy hats, and I think I saw one guy spitting in a can.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Here, Border Patrol hopefuls spend 19 weeks taking Spanish and learning law enforcement. And they go on long, sweaty runs to see if they're fit for the desert. One of Mr. Bush's goals is to have 6,000 new border agents in place by 2008. But that's no easy job for the academy. As it stands, only one of every 30 applicants is accepted into the program and graduates. To meet the president's goal, the academy would have to nearly double the number of agents they graduate each year.

Another challenge for Mr. Bush is the situation in Congress. Last month, the Senate passed a bill that tightens the border, but that also opens the door for illegal immigrants to gain working status and even citizenship. Many House conservatives oppose any path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, and there's been no sign of give.

Mr. Bush, though, said he doesn't think the news media are getting the story quite right.

President BUSH: I know when you watch your television or listen to the radio, it seems like there's nothing but disagreement on immigration policy in Washington. Yet, there's a growing consensus among all parties and all regions of the country that fundamental reforms are needed.

GREENE: He then took his methods from New Mexico to Texas, where he checked out a Border Patrol facility in Laredo. There, a reporter asked him what he's talking about when he points to progress on legislation, and whether he knows of any conservatives who are coming around.

Mr. Bush sidestepped that question and posed another.

President BUSH: Well, one thing is it's conceivable you could have been asking me how come you can't get any chamber in Congress to pass a bill? And so progress - what I'm telling the American people is - is that from last fall to now, we've got two bills out there. That's progress.

GREENE: Once House and Senate members actually sit down to try to hash out a compromise between their two bills, the president said, he'll be able to tell whether their positions can be reconciled.

David Greene, NPR News, Omaha.

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