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Friday, September 13, 2013 - 12:01pm

Immigration Reform On Back Burner

A much-discussed immigration overhaul is taking a back seat in Washington. Congress is busy considering its options in Syria and the debt ceiling debate returns. Some industry leaders and elected officials in Georgia fear a government shutdown will further delay the issue.

Georgia businesses have been watching and waiting this year for comprehensive immigration reform.

But despite the U.S. Senate passing a bill in June, Congress is not much closer to ratifying a bill of its own.

Bryan Tolar heads the Georgia Agribusiness Council. He says other issues are derailing the process.

“I don’t think time is on our side to get anything to the finish line in 2013,” he said.

He says deliberate misrepresentations about how immigration reform will treat undocumented workers are also delaying the issue. And he says the people who complain the loudest about the supposed amnesty provision are the ones who won't do the work that the agriculture industry needs done.

“There’s talk that immigration reform is going to require amnesty,” he said. “And there’s nothing in a House proposal or the Senate bill that passed that has anything to do with amnesty. There are penalty provisions in every one of them.”

He added, "If you pay a penalty, it's not amnesty."

Tolar says the public’s misreading of the issues is preventing progress. At a town hall meeting convened last week by Congressman Austin Scott, constituents wanted to know why the U.S. can’t deport illegal immigrants.

But Scott said the issue is bigger than deportation or border security.

“Let’s start with the fact that the system for people who are legally coming into the country doesn’t work and has to be fixed,” he said. “And if you don’t fix that, nothing else will work.”

Now some members of Congress think possible talks about raising the debt ceiling will serve as an excuse for a government shutdown.

Rep. David Scott serves on the House agriculture committee. The Atlanta Democrat says immigration reform is vital to Georgia’s economy. But he says a separate issue – opposition to Obama’s healthcare law – could halt the nation’s Capitol and put immigration on the back burner indefinitely.

“I don’t think it’s imminent but I think you have a cadre of Republicans on the extreme who hold House Republicans in a head lock, who would take great joy on closing down the government,” he said.

He said lawmakers and the public should see the immigration bill as an economic issue.

Business leaders fear an overhaul won’t pass in 2014 because it’s an election year.

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