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."
Last year, Georgia lawmakers adopted one of the toughest state immigration policies in the nation.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was the only Georgia lawmaker who appeared on the outdoor platform with Bush. That's in contrast to events over the past six years when Georgia Republicans clamored to be seen with the president.
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.
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 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.
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.