President Bush said Monday he understands the strain illegal immigration is placing on Arizona and other border states.
As the former governor of Texas, he knows what it means to have a long border with Mexico, he told a group of about 400 retirees at an RV park in El Mirage.
“We have an obligation to enforce the border,” he said at the Pueblo El Mirage RV and Golf Resort in the West Valley.
The president said he spoke by phone with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the issue earlier Monday.
“I said, ‘Are you working with the governors? (of Arizona and New Mexico)’ He said, ‘You bet we are.’ That’s the most effective way to do things, is to work with the state and local authorities,” Bush said.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have issued emergency orders freeing up state funds and asking for greater federal help fighting the flood of illegal immigrants across their borders.
The president said more resources will be available, more personnel will be stationed along the border and that more detention facilities will be available to hold those who are picked up while trying to cross the border.
Bush did not offer specifics about the program or when they would go into effect. He did not take questions during the panel discussion he led.
He told Arizona residents that their voices are being heard in Washington.
“What I’m telling you is that there are a lot of people working hard to get the job done, but there is more that we can do,” he said.
After Bush’s appearance, U.S. Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said in a prepared statement, “President Bush understands the need to secure our borders. He has instructed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to move as fast as possible.”
Chertoff outlined several proposals to target illegal immigration in an Aug. 22 letter to Napolitano:
• Have U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents work with Arizona Department of Public Safety investigators on a task force on human trafficking.
• Have U.S. Border Patrol agents work alongside DPS officers on interstates 10 and 8.
• Have DPS establish a liaison for Immigration and Custom Enforcement and the Border Patrol to coordinate efforts among state and federal authorities.
• Have DPS agents assist Border Patrol agents in transporting apprehended aliens. That would free up Border Patrol agents to work the border.
• Have Border Patrol agents continue their presence at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and begin periodic patrols at the Phoenix bus station.
Napolitano largely welcomed the recommendations, but urged Chertoff to allow DPS agents to conduct customs checks on vehicles headed south into Mexico.
She also urged him in a letter dated Friday to increase the number of federal agents devoted to working in the Valley and devoted to detention and removal efforts.
“The low number of agents currently assigned makes it difficult for the staff to keep up with the extremely high number of undocumented alien . . . cases in the Phoenix metro area,” she wrote.
Napolitano also suggested using Department of Corrections agents, rather than DPS agents, to transfer aliens.
“We can best combat crimes related to illegal immigration if we keep as many sworn officers as possible in the field instead of transporting aliens,” Napolitano wrote.
The governor also requested more agents and unmanned aerial vehicles along the border.
Kyl, who traveled with Bush in Arizona, said the president indicated Chertoff would have additional announcements in the near future.