President Bush continued to push his five-point plan for immigration reform Thursday, saying help from National Guard troops will allow Border Patrol agents to stop more illegal immigrants from crossing the southern U.S. border.
"Deploying the 6,000 troops to complement the work of the Border Patrol will get immediate results, and it's time to get immediate results," Bush told agents in Yuma, Ariz.
In a national address Monday night, Bush first outlined his plan to deploy National Guard troops to the border region. He called on the Senate to pass a temporary worker program and announced an end to the unmonitored release of illegal immigrants prior to deportation. He also urged Congress to find a way to deal with illegal immigrants already here and help them assimilate into U.S. culture.
"We have a duty in Washington D.C., to conduct this debate with dignity and honor. Immigration is an emotional issue. Sometimes people get carried away on the issue, and they, in doing so, they forget the greatness of our country — that we are a land of immigrants, that we've always been a haven for better opportunity, that we welcome people who are willing to abide by our laws and work hard and raise their family and trust in the Almighty.
"America's greatness has been and always will be the fact that we are one nation under God," Bush said
The president implored the Senate to complete work on its Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act by the end of the month.
"It's time to get rid of all the politics, and do what's right for the United States of America," Bush said. "I understand that illegal immigration is a serious problem and one of our jobs in public office is to fix problems, is to deal with problems in a rational way and not pass them on to other people. ... I want to work with people in Washington to do so."
Bush said a temporary guest worker program would allow illegal immigrants who haven't broken other laws to stay in the country for a limited amount of time. That would make the border agents' jobs easier, he argued.
"I understand there are many people on the other side of the border who will do anything to come and work, and that includes risking their lives crossing your desert, or being willing to be stuffed into the back of an 18-wheeler," Bush said.
"For the Border Patrol to effectively do their job, we've got to have a plan in place that reduces the number of people who are trying to sneak across," and a guest worker plan would do that, he said.
During his tour of Yuma, a burgeoning hotbed for illegal entry to the United States, Bush told FOX News in a one-on-one interview that he is satisfied with a recent amendment in a Senate immigration reform bill that sets lower limits on the number of immigrants eligible for a guest worker program.
"I want a bill that has got a guest worker program. ... What the Senate is doing is they're working on a comprehensive approach to immigration reform — that's the best way," Bush told FOX News.
As part of Senate efforts to move forward on immigration reform, an amendment to end the guest worker program was defeated Tuesday. But another amendment by to reduce the number of visas available under the guest worker program from 325,000 a year to 200,000 a year was approved.
Senators are hoping to have a final vote on the legislation by the end of next week. Lawmakers will then meet with House negotiators on a compromise between their two versions. The House is less receptive to a guest worker program calling it amnesty, a label the president decried Thursday.
"I think amnesty is automatic citizenship, and there are some who believe in automatic citizenship. I certainly don't. The best way to deal with people who have been here for a long period time is to say you pay a fine, learn the English language, prove you have been working here, and then get at the back of the line if you want to become a citizen," Bush told FOX News.
Bush toured a fence area and berm in Yuma, the choice location for the event because it's an area where National Guard troops already are assisting Border Patrol efforts in a non-law enforcement role. Bush stressed in his Monday night address that deploying National Guardsmen along the border is not a military action. Guard troops will serve in supportive roles only.
On Wednesday, the Senate agreed to add language to the bill to construct 370 miles of new fence and 500 miles of vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bush said protecting the border while offering illegals at chance at redemption is not a contradiction.
"Some think there is a contradiction between being a nation of laws and a welcoming country. I don't. I think you can be both. We can enforce our laws but at the same time have a rational policy that recognizes some people are coming here to do jobs that Americans aren't doing and there ought to be a legal way for them to do that on a temporary basis," Bush told FOX News.
"We have a sovereign duty to enforce the border. There has to be a comprehensive plan, and I'm down here on the border, in the Yuma sector, to see firsthand what's going on," he said.
White House officials said Thursday they were pleased with the Senate's action to build the fencing.
"We supported the amendment," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Arizona. Snow declined to say whether it was preferable to language in a House version of the bill that would call for 700 miles of fencing.
Snow said the president "doesn't think you fence off the entire border, but there are places, and he said this Monday night, there are places where fences are appropriate, and then, you build fences there."
Provisions of the Senate bill supported by the president would give many illegal immigrants a chance to earn the right to citizenship if they meet a number of requirements, including paying fines and demonstrating English skills.
One amendment that passed by a vote of 63-34 would make English the "national" language, requires immigrants to take civics and U.S. history classes and sets new goals for citizenship tests.
The amendment, offered by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., also says immigrants have no specific entitlement to receive federal documents in any language other than English, and any rights to non-English documents must be stated by law.
A second amendment — sought to soften the perceived intolerance of the Inhofe amendment — provides what supporters called a "diversity matters" component. It says English is "the common and unifying language of the United States that helps provide unity for the people of the United States." Offered by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., it reinforces current federal law mandating that federal services be offered in languages other than English. It passed on a vote of 58-39.
Another amendment, from Sen. John Ensign, R-N.Y., was narrowly defeated on a 50-49 vote. It would have blocked citizens who entered illegally from receiving Social Security benefits for the time period they were working illegally. Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is recovering from back surgery and did not vote.
Republican Sen. John McCain said he was in "strong opposition" of the rule because it is unfair to those who contributed despite their status.
"We all know millions of undocumented immigrants contribute to Social Security. ... It's fundamentally unfair to collect taxes from these workers and then disqualify" them once they reach legal status, McCain said.
But opponents called it another reward for bad behavior.
"Someone who came here illegally, worked illegally...is not entitled to draw on the treasury of the United States," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., arguing in favor of the restrictions.
Someone who enters the country illegally has "no entitlement to claim that money. Not legally. ... not morally," he said.
The Senate also adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Edward Kennedy, which changes the requirements for an immigrant to qualify for the guest worker program. Under Kennedy's amendment, which passed 56-43, workers wouldn't need an employer's verification that they have jobs, but would still need to prove employment. Workers also would have to get certification from the Labor Department that no American workers were available to take the job.
Illegal immigrants were likely trying to cross the border even while the president was touring Yuma. 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
Yuma, home to many farmers who want to employ immigrants at low prices to harvest fresh crops, is also one of the hottest places in the country. Growing number of Mexicans die each year trying to make it across as Border Patrols increase along the 2,000-mile dividing line.
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. The problem has inflamed passions on both sides and 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 allow more foreigners to have temporary work permits to enter the country while strengthening security at the border.
But others, like Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth, want to enforce the border before even considering any plan for guest worker permits. Hayworth was riding with Bush on Air Force One Thursday for the visit 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.
"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," he said.
FOXNews.com's Greg Simmons and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.