George W. Bush, Ron Colburn, Janet Napolitano,
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
President Bush, right, walks Thursday with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, left, and Ron Colburn, Yuma Sector chief, as he tours the border in San Luis, Ariz.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/18/2006 5:04:02 PM ET 2006-05-18T21:04:02

President Bush traveled Thursday to Arizona to refocus attention on his proposal for a guest-worker program and to witness first-hand federal efforts to control immigration.

During a visit to one of the busiest crossing sectors, where he held a round-robin of interviews with television networks, Bush did not declare his support for either of two competing proposals in Congress — one approved by the House that would build 700 miles of fending and one in the Senate that would build half that. Instead, he said the Border Patrol should guide the decisions.

“Right here, we’re at a place where we’re using fencing,” Bush told Fox News in an interview with a Border Patrol truck and fencing in the background.

“And it makes sense to use fencing here," the president said. "It doesn’t make sense to use fencing in other parts of the border. And the best people to help us design the program are those who are in charge of enforcing the border.”

Call for better technology
In an interview with NBC News' David Gregory, Bush underscored the need for enhanced technology — “we need fencing along parts of the border. We need infrared, we need motion detectors, UAV ... to help us secure this border.” — in concert with a wide-ranging program. “You can not secure the border, in my judgment, without a temporary worker plan,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, Bush was described as supportive of a 370-mile long fence to seal off areas of the U.S.-Mexico border that are popular crossing points.

Bush’s position was outlined by White House press secretary Tony Snow as the president flew to Yuma, dubbed “ground zero” in the immigration debate by one state lawmaker.

Bush had signaled opposition to such widespread fencing in the past, but his support for the plan approved Wednesday by the Senate showed how eager he is to win over Republican conservatives who want to take a tougher approach toward keeping illegal immigrants out.

“We don’t think you fence off the entire border,” Snow told reporters aboard Air Force One. But, he added, “there are places when fences are appropriate.”

The Senate was following the lead of the House, which passed a bill last year that would have constructed 700 miles of fencing.

Snow had said Wednesday that the White House would not comment on the fence proposal in the Senate, but he told reporters Thursday that “we supported the amendment” that included the fencing and was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

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Tour, speech on border
Yuma is the embodiment of the system that Bush frequently describes, where desperate people risk their lives for a chance to earn decent wages from U.S. employers hungry for their labor.

After the president's tour, he was expected to give a speech aimed at driving home Monday night’s prime-time address calling for National Guard troops to help strengthen the border while giving illegal immigrants in the United States a chance at citizenship and allowing more foreigners to enter the country legally to work. to help sell his ideas, which face tough opposition in Congress.

"It doesn’t make sense to try to deport millions of people," the president said Wednesday,  adding that those who want to live in the United States "should get in the citizenship line, but in the back, not in the front."

Immigrant-dependent economy
The Yuma economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, and farmers are eager to employ immigrants at low prices to harvest fresh crops that are increasingly in demand across the country.

The remote outpost is also one of the hottest places in the country, and growing number of Mexicans die each year trying to make it across the border.

The problem has divided the state’s politicians who do not all agree with Bush’s proposed solution. The governor, Janet Napolitano, is a Democrat but agrees with Bush that the United States should let more foreigners have temporary work permits to enter the country while strengthening security at the border.

Border hawk rides on Air Force One
But others, like Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth, want to enforce the border before even considering any plan for guest worker permits. Hayworth rode with Bush on Air Force One and said he was giving the president a copy of his book on immigration, which proposes building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, using armed forces to help patrol the region and denying citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Arizona “is ground zero,” Hayworth said, “when you consider nightly between 6,000 and 6,500 illegals attempt to cross our border and of that group, between 4,000 and 4,500 make it on a nightly basis. That is why there is such concern.”

Some of those who don’t make it are caught by the Border Patrol, while others lose their lives with daytime temperatures as high as 120 degrees. At the Yuma station, which oversees 62 miles of the border, authorities said agents are catching 300 to 450 immigrants a day, which is comparable to last year’s numbers.

But they also are seeing unusual spikes, including 840 on a single day in March. Deaths in the Yuma sector hit a record 51 in 2005, up from 36 in 2004 and 15 in 2003.

The Associated Press and NBC's David Gregory contributed to this report.

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