YUMA, Ariz. -- President Bush yesterday said that it makes sense to put up fencing along parts of the US-Mexico border but not to block off the entire 2,000-mile length to keep out illegal immigrants.
During a visit to one of the busiest crossing sectors, Bush did not declare his support for either of two competing proposals in Congress -- one approved by the House that would build 700 miles of fencing and one in the Senate that would build half that. Instead, he said the Border Patrol should guide the decisions.
''Right here we're at a place where we're using fencing," Bush told Fox News in an interview with a Border Patrol truck and fencing in the background.
''And it makes sense to use fencing here. It doesn't make sense to use fencing in other parts of the border. And the best people to help us design the program are those who are in charge of enforcing the border."
Earlier, Bush spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that the White House supported the Senate measure, which would build 370 miles of fence in areas ''most often used by smugglers and illegal aliens" as determined by federal officials.
''We don't think you fence off the entire border," Snow said aboard Air Force One en route to the inspection visit. But, he added, ''there are places when fences are appropriate."
Bush's visit to the border was designed to build support for the immigration plan he outlined Monday night in a nationally televised address. The trip was made as he sent Congress a $1.9 billion request to pay for, among other things, the temporary deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops to help increase security at the border.
Speaking to a packed room at Yuma Sector Border Patrol headquarters, Bush said the troops would ''complement the work of the Border Patrol to get immediate results. It's time to get immediate results."
''The Border Patrol, of course, will be in the lead," Bush said.
He said improved border security must be combined with a ''guest worker" program that would allow foreigners to walk across legally to get jobs, rather than risk their lives to sneak across. He said the current system ''degrades the human soul."
''This is a rational way to deal with people who are God-fearing, decent people and [to] respect their dignity," Bush said.
Bush had signaled opposition to widespread fencing in the past, and the White House's support for the plan the Senate approved Wednesday showed how eager he is to win over Republican conservatives who want to take a tough approach toward keeping illegal immigrants out.
When Bush was asked whether he supports the House or Senate fencing proposal, he was not as direct as his spokesman. ''Whatever works," Bush told Fox. ''And that's why I'm down here talking to these commanders on the ground to find out exactly what they need to get the job done."
Bush has spoken about building fences along the border in urban areas, but he told CNN En Español in March that ''it's impractical to fence off the border."
Bush rejected the idea that racism was a factor in calls for a tough law-and-order approach on the border.
''I think it would be too harsh a judgment to say that somebody who doesn't support a comprehensive immigration plan is a racist," the president told CNN from the border. ''I don't believe that. I do believe citizens have got legitimate concerns, realizing that parts of this border have been open for anybody who wants to come across. And we've got to stop that. We must enforce the border."
Bush's border tour took him to the tiny town of San Luis, filled with modest homes and many signs in Spanish as well as in English. The area economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, and farmers are eager to employ immigrants at low prices to harvest crops that are increasingly in demand across the country.