AP - President Bush got a firsthand look Thursday at ways the government fights illegal immigration and said that securing the border with Mexico will require more people and modern technology.
MISSION, Texas (AP) - President Bush got a firsthand look Thursday at ways the government fights illegal immigration and said that securing the border with Mexico will require more people and modern technology.
For Bush's arrival at the airport in nearby McAllen, Texas, the Border Patrol had set up several tools it uses on patrol - helicopters, a boat and a small plane.
Then the president's motorcade took him past waving residents lined up along the streets of Mission to a point about a half-mile from the border. He looked at a ``skybox'' - a small box equipped with infrared technology that can be raised in the air so that agents can get a view of busy crossing points. He also petted some of the horses used by agents on the ground.
``We have an obligation to secure our border and we have an obligation to treat people with decency and respect,'' the president said after his tour. He spoke of using motion and heat sensors, infrared detection equipment and other high-tech devices to catch illegal immigrants.
``We're going to help build a virtual border,'' he said. ``This border is changing and it needs to change so the Border Patrol can do its job.''
Bush said he had fulfilled his promise in May to put 6,000 members of the National Guard into the fight against illegal immigration by Aug. 1. The Guard said on Monday that while more than 6,000 guard troops had been assigned to Southwestern border states by the government's Aug. 1 deadline, only about half were on duty along the border.
Guard officials said 6,199 troops were somewhere in the four Southwestern border states, with many of them still in training. Col. Mark Allen, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said the guard never intended to have 6,000 troops on the border.
Bush spoke here as he headed for his Texas ranch and his shortest summer vacation yet - with turmoil in the Middle East and an uncertain future for his Republican Party in fall elections.
Bush left Washington Thursday with a wave and will return nine days later to tend to the problems abroad and at home that are weighing on his presidency. White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president will travel frequently during August - a contrast to previous summers when he has spent more time on his ranch and based all his travels from Texas.
The White House fought the image that the president would be tuned out even temporarily to problems in the Middle East, where there was no end in sight to fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was going to the ranch during his first weekend in Texas.
``My guess is he's going to be working pretty hard,'' Snow said. ``So this is not something where he's simply going to be gallivanting and ignoring the realities of the situation.''
Bush made it clear during a brief appearance before reporters Wednesday that he's looking forward to being at the ranch. ``For those of you going to Crawford, saddle up,'' he teased. First lady Laura Bush was joining her husband Friday night.
Snow described Bush's trip as his only ``extended stay'' at his ranch this August. He does plan to return near the end of the month for a few days, but was expected to interrupt that trip with some other travel away from Texas, including a visit to the Gulf Coast to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
He planned to remain at the ranch until Aug. 10, when he was to fly to Wisconsin for the day to campaign for Republican congressional candidate John Gard. Much of the president's travel will be focused on helping his party maintain its majority in Congress, with many political observers saying Democrats have their best chance in years to take control.
On Aug. 11, Bush planned to attend a barbecue at a neighboring ranch where donors who have raised at least $15,000 for the Republican National Committee are invited each summer. He planned to spend a second weekend at his home before returning to Washington on Aug. 13.
Bush has faced criticism every year for the time he spends at his ranch, but never as much as last year. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and a growing crowd of thousands of her sympathizers camped outside and drew extensive media coverage, then Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and prompted Bush to cut his vacation short.
Sheehan intends to return this summer - this time to a five-acre lot that she bought in the nearby town of Crawford, population 700.