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Bush Weighs Border Security Options

President Bush is planning to take action to strengthen U.S. border security. One idea under consideration involves the merger of government agencies responsible for border enforcement.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the president has received a proposal from his homeland security team to improve border security. "This morning at a meeting of the Homeland Security Council the president was presented with a recommendation on how to enhance security at the nation's borders," he said.

The main idea put forward calls for the consolidation of two agencies that share the responsibility for the flow of people and goods into the United States. One is the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The other is the Customs Agency. According to Mr. Fleischer, the president is taking a close look at the proposal but no decision has been made.

"The matter is under review," said Mr. Fleischer. "The president is very satisfied that his administration is moving forward to present good ideas about how to protect the border. Some of those ideas of course involve consolidation."

Any merger would need congressional approval. Mr. Fleischer says proponents believe it would improve coordination among the thousands of federal workers who protect U.S. borders but work for different agencies.

The president's top advisor on domestic security has been pushing the idea for some time. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has been talking about streamlining the border enforcement process for months. But spokesman Fleischer stresses if a merger does occur, the new agency will not come under Mr. Ridge's direct control. He says it will become part of an existing cabinet department. The Customs Agency is currently part of the Treasury Department, while the INS resides in the Department of Justice.