Congressman Henry Bonilla expressed his “embarrassment” that the U.S. government has not done more to “get borders under control.

“Immigration is a red hot issue,” said Bonilla, who chairs the agricultural appropriations sub committee. Bonilla gave the keynote address recently at the Texas Agricultural Forum in San Antonio, where he also accepted the Texas A&M College of Agriculture Distinguished Service Award.

“The immigration issue has many aspects, including border security and guest worker issues,” Bonilla said. He said security concerns have heightened in recent year, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack and also from an influx of illegal immigrants labeled OTM, “other then Mexican.”

Bonilla says these illegals include individuals from gangs and drug cartels. Gun battles along the border have ensued from their incursions.

“Some producers along the border have to be armed or be accompanied by armed guards,” Bonilla said. “Our government must get control of the border. I am embarrassed that we have not done a better job and I am encouraging the Department of Homeland Security and the president to make decisions to control our borders.”

Bonilla said the issue is not partisan. Differences of opinions do exist, however. Bonilla supports a guest worker plan but not amnesty. “I’ve advocated for guest worker for many years,” he said. “I tried to draft a plan before border control was enhanced. Currently, border security trumps the guest worker issue.

“But we need the workforce and we need it to be legal.”

He’s not optimistic that Congress will enact a guest worker program this year. “We have a limited number of days of activity on the calendar,” he said.

Demonstrations calling for more lax immigration policies and amnesty for illegals already in the United States are “dividing the country,” he said. “We must respect U.S. law.”

Bonilla said Southwestern farmers and ranchers also need effective disaster relief following recent wildfire and drought damage. “The package (currently under consideration) has to deal with losses from fires and drought in the Southwest,” he said. “Farmers hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita need help but so do those with wildfire and drought losses. Farmers and ranchers hurt by fire or drought are in no less an emergency than those who lost homes to the hurricanes,” he said. “We’ll be working on an emergency spending package for the next few weeks.”

He said energy challenges “are unprecedented.” He supports drilling for oil in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, more offshore drilling, more nuclear power plants and conservation efforts for vehicles and other energy use.

Partisan politics, he said, could stymie legislative efforts. He called the legislative atmosphere in Washington “ugly with conservatives and liberals fighting. I’ve never seen it this bad since I’ve been in Congress. We have no bipartisanship.”

Bonilla said the country needs optimism. “We’ve survived a civil war, World War II and the Great Depression. We’ll get through this political divisiveness.”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com