President Bush wants to strengthen America's borders to protect against more terrorist attacks. He is asking Congress for more money to tighten border security without obstructing free trade.
President Bush wants to double funding for homeland security with more money for customs agents patrolling the border and immigration officials pursuing those who have overstayed their visas.
At a speech in the northern state of Maine Friday, Mr. Bush said he will work with Canada and Mexico to develop a comprehensive border plan that protects against terrorism while still encouraging North American free trade.
"It is so important for our nation," said Mr. Bush, "to work with our friends to the north, Canada, and our friend to the south, Mexico, on border initiatives that one, doesn't tie up commerce, but on the other hand prevents illegal drugs, terrorists, arms from flowing across our border."
Mr. Bush thanked the U.S. Coast Guard for its work in combating terrorism. Port security missions that touched less than five percent of daily operations before September 11 now include between 50 and 60 percent of all operations today.
The president said he will ask Congress to increase Coast Guard funding by more than $280 million in the next budget to develop a system to track all vessels operating in U.S. waters and provide better security for high-risk ships and coastal facilities including nuclear power plants and oil refineries.
Mr. Bush also wants Congress to increase funding for the Immigration and Naturalization Service by more than $1 billion to better monitor the entry and exit of foreign visitors. He said the agency will double the number of border patrol agents and inspectors at the same time it more aggressively pursues those already in the country who have overstayed their visas.
President Bush said his budget will ask for an increase of more than $600 million in funding for the U.S. Customs service to carry out additional security inspections, purchase new technologies, and hire 800 more agents.
While strengthening security at home, President Bush stressed the best way to protect the country is by hunting down and prosecuting terrorists. "The best way to secure freedom in America, the best way to make sure we are a peaceful nation, the best way to ensure that our children can grow up in a world that a lot of us older folks grew up in, one that was pretty calm, pretty peaceful at home, one that was secure. The best way to accomplish this dream and mission is to find the enemy where they hide, to rout them out, and to bring them to justice," said Mr. Bush. "And that is exactly what our nation is going to do."
The president is preparing for his State of the Union speech to Congress next Tuesday. He is expected to thank Americans for their patience in the war against terrorism while reminding them that the fight will not be a short one.