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Flanked by police officers and Border Patrol agents, President Clinton touted his efforts to crack down on crime and illegal immigration Monday.

Just two weeks after the GOP's sure-fire nominee for president, Sen. Bob Dole, attacked him on those issues, Clinton used an appearance outside the San Diego Police Department to argue that he has worked to put more cops on the street and beef up border enforcement."Here in San Diego, control has been taken back of Imperial Beach from the criminals and the illegals," Clinton told a crowd of hundreds. He rattled off a list of devices - "underground sensors, infrared night scopes, encrypted radios" - that have been added to border enforcement.

Responding to reports of more frequent brushfires in the tinder-dry eastern area of San Diego County, where illegal border crossings have increased as a result of stricter patrols near the coast, the president said he's ordered 20 more law-enforcement officers deployed to the region.

"They will be there by the close of business today," he said to audience applause.

The president's address was upstaged somewhat by a White House announcement that, before returning to Washington, he will make a previously unscheduled visit to the burned-out ruins of a church in Greeleyville, S.C., in an effort to draw attention to the string of arson fires that have plagued African-American churches.

Clinton, who devoted his weekly radio address to the fires Saturday, commented on them further Monday.

After cautioning his audience not to fall into the illegal-immigration debate's "dangerous trap" of blaming people who look different for society's problems, the president said the church burnings represent an attempt by some to "put distance between them and someone else in a totally dehumanizing way."

He called for passage of what he said was a bipartisan bill now pending in Congress that would make it easier to prosecute anyone who attacks a house of worship.

Clinton's trip to California, his 24th since taking office as president, underscores the key role the state plays in his bid for re-election.

Political analysts say the president cannot win a second term without carrying the state. Clinton leads in the polls here, but Republicans are vowing to wrest the state from the president's grasp throughout the campaign.

In response to Clinton's visit, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents a portion of the San Diego area, held a news conference to contest the president's crime-fighting credentials.

According to a spokesman, Duncan said Clinton's 1994 crime bill, while promising to put 100,000 "cops on the street," has resulted only in 17,000 patrol officers nationwide.

Dole, who will be crowned the official GOP nominee at the party's convention here in August, joined forces with Gov. Pete Wilson in a campaign swing through California late last month to attack Clinton on his crime and record on illegal immigration.

Clinton defended that record Monday, saying he has done what he could "to get more money into California in very difficult fiscal circumstances in Washington to help you deal with the costs of illegal immigration - more than ever before - and I will continue to do that."

Attorney General Janet Reno also released a report saying crime in several border cities is declining. Since 1993, for instance, serious crime has dropped 30 percent in San Diego, 5 percent in Nogales, Ariz., and 14 percent in El Paso, Texas, the report said. The decline was attributed in part to cooperation between local law-enforcement agencies and stepped-up prosecution of drug and immigrant smugglers.

A Wilson spokesman, however, contested Clinton's assertion that he is effectively responding to the state's illegal immigration woes.

"It looks like this time he did inhale," said press secretary Sean Walsh. "We are seeing no decline in the three major categories of services to illegal immigrants - health care, incarceration and education."

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the Clinton administration, under the president's 1994 crime bill, has provided $130 million to the states for the cost of housing undocumented immigrant felons. About $64 million of that money went to California.

Clinton later traveled to Beverly Hills for a fund-raiser expected to raise $1 million for the Democratic National Committee. Tickets for the star-studded event, featuring such celebrities as Tom Cruise, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and Barbra Streisand, were $5,000 apiece.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)