President Bush will reinforce his call to secure the border Thursday during a 4.5-hour visit to Yuma. The president is scheduled to tour a portion of the international fence in the southwest corner of the state, said Jacob Grodin, a member of the White House advance team.
Information about the specific stretch of the border and the means by which Bush will approach it was not available Tuesday afternoon.
After the tour, the president will attend a briefing by U.S. Border Patrol officials and give remarks on border security and immigration reform at the patrol’s Yuma Sector headquarters. Information about those events also was unavailable Tuesday.
Several members of Arizona’s congressional delegation are expected to travel with Bush on Air Force One from Washington, D.C.
During a nationally televised speech Monday, Bush outlined plans to temporarily deploy as many as 6,000 National Guard troops to support Border Patrol agents along the border between the United States and Mexico.
The president also called for a temporary-worker program, new tamper-proof identification cards for legal foreign workers and a program to allow some of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States to apply for citizenship.
Yuma Mayor Larry Nelson knew little about the president’s plans for Thursday. “I just marked my day off. Whatever happens, I’ll be ready — if they even call,” he said.
Bush, like most out-of-town visitors probably would be surprised to learn how unstable the border is, Nelson said. Border Patrol agents simply are outmanned.
“I’ve ridden with them. You can’t get close to the border because (Mexican nationals) will throw rocks that will hit you. I mean big rocks,” Nelson said. “Some of those guys, they ought to be trying out for the big leagues, because they can heave some pretty big rocks a long way.”
Border Patrol vehicles stationed near Yuma have metal plates on their exteriors to prevent rock-throwers from shattering the windows.
Nelson “wholeheartedly” salutes the president’s call to install high-tech security devices along the border to help slow the flow of illegal immigration.
During his ride-along one night two months ago, Border Patrol agents assigned to the Yuma area captured more than 860 people trying to cross illegally, Nelson said. The mayor himself spotted one hiding near the international fence as his vehicle passed.
The president might also be surprised to discover that drug and immigrant smugglers have built virtual roads across the Colorado River, Nelson said. They place two rows of sandbags in the river, stacked until the bags are just under the water’s surface.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., who will travel with the president, said, “I am pleased that President Bush will be visiting the Arizona-Mexico border to see for himself the devastation that unchecked illegal immigration is causing our state.”
Hayworth hopes to persuade the president to adopt an enforcement-first approach to dealing with the illegal immigration issue.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who also will be with the president, said he was hopeful that the president’s prime time speech on immigration Monday would change the tone of the discussion.
“There’s a temptation for politicians to demagogue on immigration reform, and unfortunately, that has soured this debate almost to the point of deadlock,” said Flake, a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee.