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Bush OKs 700-mile border fence

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush signed a bill Thursday authorizing the construction of a fence along one-third of the 2,100-mile (3,360-kilometer) U.S. border with Mexico, but missing from the legislation is a means to pay for it.

"Unfortunately, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders for decades and therefore illegal immigration has been on the rise," Bush said before signing the measure in the White House's Roosevelt Room. "Ours is a nation of immigrants. We're also a nation of law.

"We have a responsibility to address these challenges. We have a responsibility to enforce our laws. We have a responsibility to secure our borders. We take this responsibility seriously," said Bush, flanked by Department of Homeland Security officials, GOP congressional leaders and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 is one of the first steps of a tougher illegal immigration policy touted by Republicans. Its signing comes 12 days before potentially pivotal midterm elections.

It also comes the day after a CNN poll indicates that Americans prefer the idea of more Border Patrol agents to a 700-mile (1,125-kilometer) fence. (Watch how Americans say they want more agents -- 2:07 Video)

Though Congress overwhelmingly approved the bill last month, GOP leaders waited until Tuesday to take it to Bush's desk because they wanted a public signing closer to the election.

Bush boasted Thursday of other strides in immigration policy, including increasing border security funding from $4.6 billion in 2001 to $10.4 billion in 2006, and upping the number of Border Patrol agents from 9,000 to 12,000. By the end of his presidency, he said, there will be 18,000 Border Patrol agents. (Watch Bush explain why he's increasing cash and manpower for border patrol -- 4:39 Video)

Also, thousands of beds will be added at detention facilities for illegal immigrants, so Border Patrol agents can end "catch-and-release at our southern border," Bush said.

Since Bush took the Oval Office, the United States has caught and deported more than 6 million people entering the country illegally, he said.

"The Secure Fence Act builds on this progress," the president said, explaining that in addition to the fence, the bill provides for the use of advanced technology such as cameras, satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Who picks up the tab?

But missing from the law are the funds to pay for it. (Map of planned fencing)

The act provides no funding mechanism for the fence, though a $1.2 billion appropriation was approved as part of a bill the president signed this month. There are no concrete numbers, but estimates suggest the fence would cost twice that amount. The earlier bill, however, stipulates that the $1.2 billion could be used for a fence, lighting, vehicle barriers and high-tech equipment.

A poll released Wednesday by Opinion Research Corp. finds that 74 percent of the 1,013 Americans surveyed are in favor of more U.S. agents along the border, while 45 percent said they want a 700-mile fence along the border.

The CNN poll also said that 67 percent of respondents would like to see fewer illegal immigrants in the country, but 34 percent said they should be removed.

The fence bill has earned the ire of U.S. southern neighbors, as Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon this month called the proposal "deplorable" and Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said Mexico was considering taking the issue to the United Nations, according to The Associated Press.

Calderon and President Vicente Fox later ruled out approaching the international body, and Fox said about three weeks ago he was "confident" the fencing would never come to fruition, the AP reported.

The Organization of American States released a statement Wednesday from Mexico and 27 regional countries expressing "deep concern" over the fence measure. The statement further called the proposal "a unilateral measure that goes against the spirit of understanding that should characterize how shared problems between neighboring countries are handled and that affects cooperation in the hemisphere."

The measure also had its critics at home, as Mike Cutler, a former special agent with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said before the bill's signing that he doubts the fence will be effective.

"I'm very skeptical, and in fact doubtful, that that fence will ever really be built the way the American people are expecting it to be constructed," Cutler said. "Time will tell, but I'm not an optimist."

The president for the union representing Border Patrol agents also expressed skepticism, according to the AP.

"A fence will slow people down by a minute or two, but if you don't have the agents to stop them it does no good. We're not talking about some impenetrable barrier," said T.J. Bonner, who heads the National Border Patrol Council, the AP reported.

During the signing ceremony, Bush said he was going to continue working to bolster the nation's immigration policy, including pushes to crack down on "widespread document fraud" and enacting a temporary worker plan. But he stated his opposition to granting workers quick citizenship.

"We must face the reality that million of illegal immigrants are already here. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. That is amnesty. I oppose amnesty," he said.

"There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation, and I look forward to working with Congress to find that middle ground."

CNN's Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.


President Bush says the signing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is part of his larger plan to overhaul immigration policy.




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