U.S. President George Bush has signed a law authorizing construction of more than 1,000 kilometers of fence along America's border with Mexico. Illegal immigration is an important issue in some of next month's congressional elections.
President Bush says illegal immigration is on the rise in the United States, because the government has not been in complete control of its southern border for decades.
"We have a responsibility to address these challenges," he said. "We have a responsibility to enforce our laws. We have a responsibility to secure our borders. We take this responsibility seriously."
Mr. Bush says the legislation he signed into law will help meet that responsibility by increasing the number of border agents, creating new vehicle barriers and adding beds to detention centers for illegal immigrants.
But the new fence at the centerpiece of the Secure Borders Act may never be built, as only a portion of the necessary funding has been approved. Estimates for more than 1,000 kilometers of fence range from $6 billion to $8 billion. Congress has so far approved just over $1 billion for a fence that would cover nearly one-third of America's border with Mexico.
Still, President Bush says the extra lighting, high technology cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles authorized in the bill will help make the border more secure.
"We are modernizing the southern border of the United States so we can assure the American people we are doing our job of securing the border," he added. "By making wise use of physical barriers and deploying 21st century technology, we are helping our border patrol agents do their job."
Plans for the new fence have added to border tensions with outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox who called it shameful and compared it to the Berlin Wall.
Most members of President Bush's political party from states along the southern border have championed the fence as a national security issue. But many oppose the president's proposed guest worker program, which would allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States for a specific period of time.
While his own Republican party blocked that plan in Congress, President Bush says he intends to press ahead with the temporary worker plan after next month's elections. Mr. Bush says it is not practical to deport as many as 12 million illegal immigrants.
"They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship," explained Mr. Bush. "That is amnesty. I oppose amnesty. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation."
Immigration is a hot topic in some of the races where opposition Democrats hope to win control of the House of Representatives.
A public opinion poll by the cable television network CNN says two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how President Bush is handling immigration. A majority of Americans favor building new fences.