Comprehensive immigration reform has a new advocate: former Congressman Charles Stenholm, a “blue dog” Democrat who represented a largely agricultural district in Texas and who was a strong advocate for the meat industry while in office. “It really needs to happen,” he told

“You watch Lou Dobbs say we need a fence, and I say, ‘Go ahead, build your fence. What you’ve just done is lock up 12 to 20 million undocumented workers.” He called a border fence “a colossal waste of money” and said it won’t prevent people from crossing the border. “It’s not really a very funny joke, but if they build this 10-foot-high fence along the border, then what everyone should do is buy stock in 11-foot ladder companies.”

Stenholm, who is now a senior policy advisor at Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman, Bode, Matz PC, a Washington, D.C., legal firm, is particularly incensed that in the debate over immigration reform, undocumented workers continue to be called “illegal aliens.” “They’re not illegal, they’re undocumented – and that’s our fault,” he said. “But we’ve got to come up with an effective documentation system. We’re talking about 70 percent of the agricultural workforce in our country.”

Earlier this month, Stenholm told an audience convened for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting: “I’m in favor of an identification card that can’t be forged. Let’s get out immigrants identified and in an agricultural worker system. I’m not worried about agricultural workers; I’m more concerned with identifying terrorists. ID cards would get the job done to see who is in our country and where they are going.” He told that the technology exists now to produce cost-effective ID cards that are very, very difficult to counterfeit.

He also said that while he was in Congress and George W. Bush was governor of Texas, “I supported his immigration plans. He was right about it – he treated Mexico like it was, which was our neighbor. Then when he was president 9-11 came along and everything changed. We forgot about being neighbors with anybody.”

He’s not quite sure, he said, why immigration reform is such a volatile issue, “but it sure seems to strike a nerve. ‘Amnesty’ has become a four-letter word. Alright, let’s come up with another word. But there’s no question in my mind that comprehensive reform is something we’ve got to do and we’ve got to do it sooner rather than later.”