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Bush tells law officers security is key to immigration reform
Bush Georgia GABRU1 6661572
President Bush addresses a crowd at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Ga., Tuesday, May 29, 2007. Bush visited FLETC to urge lawmakers to pass the comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill that is currently on the floor of the senate. - photo by Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Seeking a friendly audience for his first major event touting a controversial immigration reform plan, President Bush told a crowd of federal law enforcement trainees and instructors on Tuesday that security will be key to any effective immigration plan.
    ‘‘We have a mission, a vital mission, and that’s to protect our country,’’ Bush said during a 30-minute speech at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. ‘‘You all are on the front line of that mission.’’
    Georgia has been a supportive bastion for Bush in the past year as his popularity slid elsewhere in the country, making it an attractive staging ground as he attempts to fend off conservative critics who say parts of the compromise bill amount to amnesty for illegal immigrants.
    Last year, Georgia lawmakers adopted one of the toughest state immigration policies in the nation.
    But Tuesday’s event presented a contrast to visits over the past six years, when Georgia Republicans clamored to be seen with the president.
    Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was the only Georgia lawmaker who appeared on the outdoor platform with Bush.
    Bush specifically thanked Chambliss and Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, who also attended the event, for supporting the plan.
    ‘‘It takes a lot of courage in the face of some of the criticism in the political world to do what’s right, not what’s comfortable,’’ Bush said.
    At the May 19 Georgia Republican Convention, Chambliss was greeted with boos and hisses when he defended the temporary guest worker provision in the immigration plan.
    Both Chambliss and Isakson played leading roles in putting together Bush’s deal with the Senate. Yet they have also said they may not support the final bill, depending upon how it is amended.
    Bush criticized those who have blasted the plan without studying its details and repeatedly emphasized one of the elements of the plan Chambliss has stressed: that provisions to allow illegal immigrants to pursue legal residency would kick in only after measures to increase border security are in place.
    The bill would give temporary legal status to millions of unlawful immigrants, provided they come forward, pay a fine and undergo criminal background checks. To apply for a green card, they would have to pay another fine, learn English, return to their home country and wait in line.
    Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was busy Tuesday reviewing legislation passed during this year’s session of the Legislature, said spokesman Dan McLagan. Wednesday is the deadline by which the governor must either sign or veto legislation.
    McLagan said Perdue’s absence from the president’s speech was not related to the event’s subject matter.
    ‘‘It had nothing to do with anything,’’ he said.
    Perdue has called the immigration plan a welcome but imperfect starting point in an important debate.
    Sen. Johnny Isakson and Rep. Jack Kingston, both Georgia Republicans, did not attend the event because of previous commitments that were scheduled before the White House announced the trip to South Georgia, according to their offices.
    State Senate President pro-tem Eric Johnson, of Savannah, whose district stretches to near Brunswick, was not invited to the event, said spokesman Marshall Guest.
    White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said it was Bush’s first event scheduled to specifically pitch the immigration plan to the American public.
    The training center where Bush spoke is a school for 83 federal agencies and provides services to state, local and international police agencies. More than 50,000 students graduated last year from the Brunswick school or one of FLETC’s other academies.
    A small group of protesters gathered outside the gates of the federal center.
    One of them, Brunswick resident Elaine Brown, called the immigration bill ‘‘ridiculous.’’
    ‘‘I know the big construction companies in this area are making a fortune off of illegal Mexicans,’’ she said. Brown said the provision that allows illegals to pay a fine and get in line to legalize their status is ‘‘a sertup for madness. That means any drug dealer with $5,000 will be head of somebody who really is an honest worker.’’
    Earlier Tuesday, Bush received a briefing from federal, state and local officials on the wildfires in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida.
    The fires — the first of which started April 16 — have charred more than 567,000 acres, forcing evacuations throughout the region and threatening the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
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