Immigration topped the issues presented by constituents to Congressman Joe Barton during Thursday night’s town hall meeting.

The discussion reflected findings of a survey filled out earlier this year by residents in the Ennis Republican’s Sixth District.

Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said immigration should be the highest priority for Congress, followed by health care, 28 percent; global warming, 6 percent and other, 5 percent. Only 4 percent of survey respondents said social issues should be a priority.

Answers to other questions - whether residents would support a fence along the border (72 percent, yes) and should English be made the nation’s official language (94 percent, yes) - also were reflected in the survey’s findings.

In a handout provided attendees, Barton outlined his principles for immigration legislation:

border security must be first priority no amnesty increased immigration enforcement and stiffer penalties for violators of law expectation that newcomers obey the law and assimilate into society by learning English awareness of the business community’s employment needs

Congress is still deadlocked on immigration legislation, Barton said, saying he doubts a consensus can be reached before the end of this congressional session.

“I don’t support amnesty (for illegal immigrants), and I think we should pass a law to use English as our official language,” he said, saying he is not supportive of providing state and federal benefits for illegal immigrants.

Barton said he is supportive of a fraud-proof, verifiable ID, saying his frequent flyer ID utilizes an iris (eye) scan.

“I don’t have a problem with that, but some people do,” he said, noting such IDs would help with enforcement issues involving illegal immigrants with fake documentation. “We have the technology to do that.”

While supportive of stricter measures involving illegal immigration, in response to one audience member’s stance on birthrights, Barton said at this time he would still hesitate at voting for a constitutional amendment that would revoke the privilege of automatic citizenship for someone born on U.S. soil.

There is abuse of the system though, he said.

“It does give you pause when there are organized efforts to have a baby here so people can claim some type of status under immigration laws,” he said. “It’s worthy of a debate. Is it worthy of changing the constitution? I’m still not sure of that.”

Discussing fencing along the border, Barton said he is supportive of the measure.

“There are some areas where fences do make sense,” he said, saying it would work in known high-traffic areas for illegal immigration and noting also a significant increase in the number of border patrol.

The discussion on immigration issues touched on the impact on Social Security, with Barton saying benefits are intended to go to people with valid numbers - either citizens or legal residents.

“I do not support state and federal benefits going to illegal immigrants,” Barton said. “If you have a legitimate Social Security card - and not a fake one - you are entitled to that benefit.”

A change in the law allows hospitals to ask if a person is a citizen, he said, noting the facilities can decline service unless it’s a life-threatening situation. If not life-threatening and the hospital does choose to provide care, that care is not eligible for Medicare reimbursement.

In opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants, Barton said he could see a several-year phased-in period where people leave the country and reapply to come back in under a legal status.

“I do believe we should still be a country that embraces immigrants - legally,” he said. “I don’t care about ethnicity as long as they are willing to work and help their family and build a better state and better country.”

In his other remarks, Barton touched on energy, citing Texas’ status as the nation’s largest energy producer - and its largest consumer.

“We’re a net importer of energy,” Barton said, saying he is supportive of utilizing the latest in clean coal technology.

Relating to recent reports of defective and tainted Chinese goods, Barton said he has pushed for China to allow U.S. inspectors into its manufacturing facilities.

While trade allows for lower prices and a better choice, “we do have to insist they adopt the same inspection standards and safety standards,” he said. “I’m advocating China allow U.S. inspectors to go in. … We ought to have the right to do that now.

“We’ve got to get them to raise their standards to our standards and if they don’t, we don’t need to let them in,” he said, saying the right to inspect ought to be immediate rather than the current situation where a request is made with the Chinese, who then set an appointment for six months later.

Touching on globalization, Barton said, “You’re not going to stop it. You’re not going to roll back the clock.”

But globalization doesn’t mean sovereignty goes away, he said, after one attendee said that borders between the United States, Canada and Mexico are being erased and replaced by a North American Union.

“That’s not going to happen,” Barton said, saying each is a sovereign country. “There’s not going to be a confederation where we merge these nations.”

He said he supports NAFTA and the Trans-Texas Corridor, citing the benefits it will provide and the need for increased infrastructure - and disagreeing with an assertion by another attendee that there are plans for a sovereign Mexican port in America’s heartland.

“There is not going to be a Mexican port in St. Louis,” Barton said. “It’s not going to happen. I am right.”

Discussing the debate over children’s health programs, Barton said the issue has been heated. He said he expects the fight to begin again when SCHIP comes up for reauthorization later this fall.

On the subject of the War on Terror, Barton said he had voted against every attempt to set a deadline to leave Iraq, noting a special report is due in September.

“I think the War on Terror is real,” he said. “I think terrorist groups hate our country. They want to destroy our life and they’ll stop at nothing to do that.”

He expressed his doubts about the possibility that diplomacy will work in this situation.

“An organization that believes in beheading and big truck bombs that explode in a busy market … I don’t know how you negotiate with that,” he said.

Introducing his staff members to the audience, Barton encouraged people to contact his office with any questions, concerns or issues.

“I’ve got 23 years of experience and if it was really necessary I can get the president on the phone in the next 10 minutes,” he said of his tenure and contacts.

Barton encouraged people also to utilize the capabilities of his staff in his district and Washington offices relating to constituent services.

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com