Houston Attorneys Speak Out On Immigration Reform

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THELAW.TV Houston
Houston Attorneys Speak Out On Immigration Reform
Friday, May 24, 2013

By THELAW.TV

Immigration reform has dominated the political landscape in Washington for much of the year.
There’s widespread agreement that the immigration system needs a comprehensive overhaul. Yet, there’s little agreement on what the change should look like. Democrats want a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. But many Republicans oppose anything that looks like “amnesty.”
We asked prominent Houston-area immigration attorneys to speak out on this hot button issue.
Here’s what they had to say:

Q: As an experienced immigration attorney, do you believe that we will see comprehensive immigration reform become law during this President Obama’s administration?

“It’s like trying to swallow an elephant. I hope Congress has the stomach for it.”
– Adan G. Vega, Esq., Law Offices of Adan G. Vega & Associates

“I think the House and Senate are too far apart to reach a compromise.”
– Emily Neumann, Esq., Reddy & Neumann, P.C.

“Yes, I believe that the groundswell of support is growing within Congress to enact this needed legislation this year. Both parties have been applauded for their bipartisan efforts and the chance to show that Washington can work together. The majority of Congress do not want to appear to be obstructionists.”
– Pamelia Barnett, Esq., Barnett Law Group

“Change is on the horizon during this administration because minorities made a huge impact on the 2012 presidential election and showed us all that they are a force to be reckoned with. I support an immigration reform bill that affords the same rights to all qualifying individuals, irrespective of their sexual orientation. Immigration reform should include LGBT individuals and their families. Times are changing and as Americans we must lead the way.”
– Gia Samavati, Esq., Samavati & Samavati

“Immigration attorneys are reluctant to be hopeful for comprehensive immigration reform due to many failed prior attempts. However, I believe we are closer than we have been in many years to a resolution. It is in both parties’ interest to pass comprehensive legislation that will ultimately impact millions of lives, improve security, and boost our economy.”
– Ruby L. Powers, Esq., The Law Office of Ruby L. Powers

What do you think about immigration reform? Will it happen? What will it look like? Let us know.

http://blog.chron.com/legalnews/2013/05/houston-attorneys-speak-out-on-immigration-reform/


Experts from Left and Right Agree on Economic Power of Immigration Reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

shutterstock_115685188

In recent years, study after study has demonstrated a simple yet economically powerful truth about broad-based immigration reform: workers with legal status earn more than workers who are unauthorized—and these extra earnings generate more tax revenue, as well as more consumer spending, which creates more jobs. As a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) points out, this fact implies that states with appreciable unauthorized populations stand to gain economically from immigration reform that includes a legalization program for the unauthorized. Moreover, a new open letter to Congressional leaders released by the conservative American Action Forum illustrates that it is not only liberal advocacy groups like CAP which recognize the economic potential of immigration reform.

The CAP study begins by quantifying the immense economic gains to the nation as a whole that would flow from a new legalization program:

“If the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States were provided legal status, then the 10-year cumulative increase in the gross domestic product, or GDP, of the United States would be $832 billion. Similarly, the cumulative increase in the personal income of all Americans over 10 years would be $470 billion. On average over 10 years, immigration reform would create 121,000 new jobs each year. Undocumented immigrants would also benefit and contribute more to the U.S. economy. Over the 10-year period they would earn $392 billion more and pay an additional $109 billion in taxes—$69 billion to the federal government and $40 billion to state and local governments. After 10 years, when the undocumented immigrants start earning citizenship, they will experience additional increases in their income on the order of 10 percent, which will in turn further boost our economy.”

The study then calculates the economic gains from legalization over the course of 10 years for 24 states where 88 percent of all unauthorized immigrants live. Among these are:

Arizona: Legalization would yield a cumulative increase in Gross State Product (GSP) of $23.1 billion; $1.5 billion in additional taxes paid by formerly unauthorized immigrants; and an average of 3,400 new jobs created annually.

Florida: Legalization would yield a cumulative increase in GSP of $55.3 billion; $3.1 billion in additional taxes paid by formerly unauthorized immigrants; and an average of 8,000 new jobs created annually.

Pennsylvania: Legalization would yield a cumulative increase in GSP of $14.8 billion; $810 million in additional taxes paid by formerly unauthorized immigrants, and an average of 2,100 new jobs created annually.

Virginia: Legalization would yield a cumulative increase in GSP of $16.3 billion; $670 million in additional taxes paid by formerly unauthorized immigrants, and an average of 2,400 new jobs created annually.

The study rightly points out that “the sooner we grant legal status and provide a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, the sooner all Americans will be able to reap these benefits.”

Lest pro-reform views be portrayed as the exclusive domain of political liberals, the May 23 American Action Forum letter to Congressional leaders was signed by 111 conservative economists, including  American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Director of the Congressional Budget Office; Arthur B. Laffer, former Chief Economist at the Office of Management and Budget; and R. Glenn Hubbard and Edward Lazear, former Chairmen of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. The letter acknowledges that “immigration reform’s positive impact on population growth, labor force growth, housing and other markets will lead to more rapid economic growth. This, in turn, translates into a positive impact on the federal budget.” Therefore, the signatories urge Congressional leaders “to pass a broad-based immigration reform bill that includes a U.S. visa system more attuned to economic policy objectives. We believe a reformed and efficient immigration system can promote economic growth and ease the challenge of reforming unsustainable federal health and retirement programs.”

Both the CAP report and the American Action Forum letter are signs that numerous experts from across the political spectrum recognize the economic power and potential of immigration reform. Done right, immigration reform legislation could serve as a significant stimulus for the U.S. economy. The dysfunctional status quo, on the other hand, serves no one’s best interests.

http://immigrationimpact.com/2013/05/24/experts-from-left-and-right-agree-on-economic-power-of-immigration-reform/


First Hurdle Cleared in Immigration, but Bigger Ones Remain

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, pathway to citizenship Leave a comment

By 

Updated: May 21, 2013 | 8:50 p.m.
May 21, 2013 | 8:00 p.m.

An American flag, about 150 years old, is flown during an immigration-reform rally at the Capitol last month. (AP Photo)

The first step in passing major immigration legislation went pretty smoothly, all things considered. The Senate Judiciary Committee late Tuesday approved a bill that would give 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and require employers to electronically verify all new hires.

The bill offers the biggest changes to immigration law in almost 30 years.

The committee’s action clears the way for a full-fledged Senate to take up the bill after Memorial Day. But making progress toward passage will only get more difficult. The “Gang of Eight” Republican and Democratic sponsors are fighting for every additional Republican vote in the full Senate, hoping that the measure will pass with “yes” votes from almost all of the 55 members in the Democratic caucus and at least 15 of the Senate’s 45 Republicans.

The latest supporter of the bill is Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted for the bill out of committee after reaching a deal to ease access to H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers. He is asking for a few more changes to the bill before a Senate vote, but his support in committee is significant.

Reform advocates are happy with the committee vote, even though they know there are many ways the bill could still die. After five arduous days of debate, with committee members slogging through hundreds of amendments, the immigration proposal emerged largely unchanged from the basic framework initially offered in April by the Gang of Eight.

The bill’s path to citizenship is still intact, despite attempts from some committee Republicans to remove the ability of newly legalized immigrants to become naturalized citizens. The electronic verification requirement is still being phased in over several years to accommodate small businesses, despite an attempt to speed up the mandate that would have threatened businesses’ support of the bill.

Advocates consider the legislation the answer to problems raised in 1986, when Congress passed legislation giving amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants and put in place a paper authorization system for employers.

America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry, an avid supporter of legalization for undocumented immigrants, noted that the 1986 bill didn’t allow for future immigrants to enter the country for low-skill jobs such as restaurant workers, roofers, or nannies. So those workers simply entered illegally. Now there are 11 million of them. The immigration legislation on the table would create several ways for employers who need those foreign workers to get them here and not be forced to pay them under the table.

“You have options where those immigration categories didn’t exist before,” Sharry said. “We now have a lever to turn. If the demand goes up, you can increase the visas because you have a visa category that didn’t exist before. You couldn’t do that.”

The final hours of the committee’s deliberation illustrated the deep emotional struggles that the bill’s sponsors grappled with in order to reach agreement with members of the opposing party and those with opposing viewpoints. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., waited until the bitter end of the hours-long session to discuss his controversial amendment that would give same-sex couples the same immigration benefits as heterosexual couples. The proposal was dubbed a deal-killer by Republicans, so Leahy did reluctantly withdrew it.

“I don’t want be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country,” Leahy said.

“There will be another day, Mr. Chairman,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a bill sponsor who said he would have voted against Leahy’s proposal because it upset the agreement from the Gang of Eight.

Another amendment offered by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, to allow U.S. citizens to sponsor siblings or married adult children for green cards in cases of extreme hardship, was rejected with regrets from otherwise supportive Democrats. The ability to sponsor siblings and adult children for green cards, a right that exists under current law, was traded away in favor of merit-based visas to end so-called chain migration, at the request of Republicans.

If those amendments were difficult for Democrats to deal with, the Republicans on the Gang of Eight had their own problems. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted that he and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., had been voting for days against amendments that they themselves wanted because they knew it would upset Gang Democrats. For example, Flake and Graham voted against proposals to increase the number of guest workers allowed in the bill, because Democrats did not want to upset unions that are vigorously attempting to keep the visa numbers low to protect American jobs.

As the bill moves to the full Senate, its sponsors got a huge boost on the Republican side from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Tuesday that he would not stand in the way of the legislation on the Senate floor. “The Judiciary Committee has not in any fundamental way undone the agreements that were reached by the eight senators. And so I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get a bill that we can pass here in the Senate,” he said.

Even with a pass from McConnell, other Republicans are expected to make a fuss, and it will be an exercise in patience and political savvy to navigate their protests. Gang member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is not on the Judiciary Committee, says the bill won’t pass if all 100 senators don’t have their say. That’s going to mean a lot of floor time for senators to talk about everything from drones to chicken-processing plants to dairy workers.

For more information:http://www.nationaljournal.com/first-hurdle-cleared-in-immigration-but-bigger-ones-remain-20130521?utm_source=AILA+Mailing&utm_campaign=6e48f3428c-AILA8_5_23_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3c0e619096-6e48f3428c-287739493


Immigration Policy Center

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Immigration Policy Center.


More than 600 Scholars Plea for Immigration Reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment
For Immediate Release

More Than 600 Scholars Plea for Action on Immigration Nationwide Sign-On Letter Urges Reform

May 1, 2013

 

Washington D.C. – Today, the American Immigration Council releases, It is Time for Congress to Take Action and Reform Our Nation’s Immigration Laws: A Plea from America’s Scholars, a sign-on letter joined by more than 600 professors and scholars from across America.

The letter opens with:

“The history of America is a history of immigration. Starting with our country’s founding by idealistic newcomers, the waves of immigrants who settled in the United States have continuously added to our culture and national identity. However, America’s immigration system has become out of step with the social and economic needs of our nation and, therefore, we believe policies must change. As university professors from across the United States, we believe that reforming our immigration laws is both the right thing to do and is in our nation’s best interests. As the community responsible for educating the next generation of Americans, we see the harm that a broken immigration system has had on our students and their families.”

To view the entire letter click here.

The scholars who signed-on to the letter are affiliated with more than 300 universities from across the nation and from states including Tennessee, Kansas, Ohio, New York, California, South Carolina, Maryland, Michigan, Florida, Missouri, Minnesota, Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Illinois. Their institutional affiliations include Ivy League and community colleges, state universities and private religious institutions.
Share our infographic highlighting the letter on Facebook.
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For more information contact Wendy Feliz at wfeliz@immcouncil.org or 202-507-7524.


Milken conference panel: Immigration reform would boost economy

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

By Ricardo Lopez
April 29, 2013, 5:50 p.m.

Providing legal status to the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants would boost the U.S. economy and eradicate underground economies in cities such as Los Angeles, a panel of researchers, elected officials and a business tycoon said Monday.

At the annual Milken Global Conference, immigration reform was the focal point of one panel, which included Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp., Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

“We have a cash economy that’s not producing the type of economic growth we want,” said Bennet, who is part of the “Gang of Eight” senators working to pass immigration reform.
This year, President Obama urged lawmakers to make immigration reform a priority. Business interests, including farmers and Silicon Valley start-ups, have pushed for a legislative solution to ease reported labor shortages.

They have faced opposition from labor groups seeking caps on visas for skilled workers to protect American jobs.

“From an economic point of view … we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Bennet said.

Murdoch, who has long advocated for an overhaul of immigration laws, said it is “economically essential” to provide legal status to immigrants in the country.

“We have to accept these people are here, welcome them,” he said.

Vivek Wadhwa, director of research for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization, said that if the number of visas issued to high-skilled foreign workers is increased, “without a doubt, it would boost this economy.”

Panelists called immigration reform likely to pass this year, but Wadhwa said lawmakers should have a “Plan B” in case the issue is shelved.

Bennet and other panelists said that this time around, the immigration reform bill is gaining broad-based support from business, labor and worker advocacy groups that have made compromises on issues such as visa caps.


Mark Zuckerberg group launches TV blitz

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

By ALEXANDER BURNS

4/23/13 3:15 PM EDT

POLITICO

The Mark Zuckerberg-backed organization pressing for immigration reform will launch its first wave of television ads Tuesday, in a move aimed at shoring up support for a large-scale immigration deal on the right, strategists for the group told POLITICO.

FWD.us, the organization formed to push Silicon Valley’s priorities in Washington, will advocate for a new immigration law through a subsidiary group created specifically to court conservatives. Americans for a Conservative Direction will spend seven figures to run ads in more than half a dozen states, according to strategists who sketched out the organization’s plans.

The sales pitch leans heavily on clips of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to make its case to skeptical Republican-leaning voters. The ad campaign is the first wave of advocacy advertising from FWD.us, and an early test of the group’s ability to move the political debate.

The conservative-oriented FWD.us affiliate running the ads has assembled its own blue-chip board of advisers, including former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; Sally Bradshaw, the former chief of staff to Jeb Bush; Dan Senor and Joel Kaplan, the former George W. Bush advisers; and Rob Jesmer, the former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who serves as the campaign manager for FWD.us.

Brian Walsh, the former NRSC communications director, is working closely with the group on communications and strategy.

In a statement, Jesmer said the TV offensive was aimed at giving air support to Republicans in Washington who have gone out on a limb to forge an immigration deal.

“Conservative leaders in Congress have put forward a bold plan with the toughest enforcement measures to secure our broken borders and hold those who have broken our laws accountable. Americans for a Conservative Direction is committed to supporting this effort as Congress gets to work on the real solutions that will fix our broken immigration system, secure our borders and help grow our economy,” the GOP strategist said.

FWD.us, a registered not-for-profit, will also have an arm focused on reaching out to progressive and independent voters, dubbed the Council for American Job Growth. Both affiliate groups are incorporated as LLCs.

And while both entities will be funded through the FWD.us umbrella organization, strategists said they will have independent boards to shape their political activity.

In six states – Texas, Florida, Utah, North Carolina, Iowa and Kentucky – the Americans for a Conservative Direction commercials will feature clips of Rubio extolling the virtues of a tough-but-fair immigration compromise. Voters in a seventh state, South Carolina, will see 60-second ads praising the conservative credentials of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top Republican advocate for immigration reform.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/mark-zuckerberg-immigration-group-launches-tv-blitz-90511.html#ixzz2Rs5ToiWP


Immigration and Fear

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends Leave a comment

The New York Times
April 20, 2013
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Much of the country was still waking up to the mayhem and confusion outside Boston on Friday morning when Senator Charles Grassley decided to link the hunt for terrorist bombers to immigration reform.

“How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” asked Mr. Grassley, the Iowa Republican, at the beginning of a hearing on the Senate’s immigration bill. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.?”

The country is beginning to discuss seriously the most sweeping overhaul of immigration since 1986, with hearings in the Senate last week and this week, and a possible vote by early summer. After years of stalemate, the mood has shifted sharply, with bipartisan Congressional coalitions, business and labor leaders, law-enforcement and religious groups, and a majority of the public united behind a long-delayed overhaul of the crippled system.

Until the bombing came along, the antis were running out of arguments. They cannot rail against “illegals,” since the bill is all about making things legal and upright, with registration, fines and fees. They cannot argue seriously that reform is bad for business: turning a shadow population of anonymous, underpaid laborers into on-the-books employees and taxpayers, with papers and workplace protections, will only help the economy grow.

About all they have left is scary aliens.

There is a long tradition of raw fear fouling the immigration debate. Lou Dobbs ranted about superhighways from Mexico injecting Spanish speakers deep into the heartland. Gov. Jan Brewer told lies about headless bodies in the Arizona desert. And now Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, is warning of radical Islamists posing as Hispanics and infiltrating from the southern border.

But the Boston events have nothing to do with immigration reform. Even if we stop accepting refugees and asylum seekers, stop giving out green cards and devise a terror-profiling system that can bore into the hearts of 9-year-olds, which seems to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s age when he entered the United States, we will still face risks. And we will not have fixed immigration.

There is a better way to be safer: pass an immigration bill. If terrorists, drug traffickers and gangbangers are sharp needles in the immigrant haystack, then shrink the haystack. Get 11 million people on the books. Find out who they are.

The Senate bill includes no fewer than four separate background checks as immigrants move from the shadows to citizenship. It tightens the rules on employment verification and includes new ways to prevent misuse of Social Security numbers. It has an entry-exit visa system to monitor traffic at borders and ports.

And if we are serious about making America safer, why not divert some of the billions now lavished on the border to agencies fighting gangs, drugs, illegal guns and workplace abuse? Or to community policing and English-language classes, so immigrants can more readily cooperate with law enforcement? Why not make immigrants feel safer and invested in their neighborhoods, so they don’t fear and shun the police? Why not stop outsourcing immigration policing to local sheriffs who chase traffic offenders and janitors?

As we have seen with the failure of gun control, a determined minority wielding false arguments can kill the best ideas. The immigration debate will test the resilience of the reform coalition in Congress. Changes so ambitious require calm, thoughtful deliberation, and a fair amount of courage. They cannot be allowed to come undone with irrelevant appeals to paranoia and fear.


The Dream is Now’—Steve Jobs’ widow launches new Dream Act push

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, DREAM Act, education, Immigration Law Leave a comment

The Dream is Now’—Steve Jobs’ widow launches new Dream Act push

By Beth Fouhy | The Lookout – Tue, Jan 22, 2013

CendyCendy (screengrab from www.thedreamisnow.org)

The teenage girl peers into the camera, ready to divulge a secret.

“All my siblings are documented except me,” says the girl, identified onscreen as Cendy. “I know I have a lot of potential but that I might not get there because my status will hold me back.”

Cendy is one of millions of immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children—a group known as “DREAMers” by advocates of the Dream Act, a federal bill first introduced in the Senate in 2001 to allow them a pathway to permanent residency. To push for passage of the provisions in the Dream Act, Cendy and others agreed to share their stories on www.thedreamisnow.org, a website launched Tuesday by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“Waiting for Superman” and “An Inconvenient Truth” ) and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

 

The project allows young undocumented immigrants to submit videos describing how their lives would change if the Dream Act were passed. Others can also submit posts, including teachers, relatives and friends of the young immigrants, as well as those involved in developing policy around immigration.

The videos will be posted on the website, and Guggenheim will compile them into a documentary film.

“The documentary becomes a living, breathing petition,” Guggenheim told Yahoo News. “These DREAMers are putting everything on the line. When they come out like this, they are saying, ‘I’m ready to risk it all for what I believe.’”

Immigration reform looms large as a legislative priority for President Barack Obama and for Republicans hoping to improve the party’s status among Hispanic voters.

Powell Jobs told Yahoo News the new project was an effort to harness the momentum around the issue and give visibility to the young people who would benefit from the Dream Act.

“There needed to be a demystification—to put a face to these people, to hear the individual stories,” Powell Jobs said in one of the few interviews she has granted since Steve Jobs’ death in 2011.

Powell Jobs told Yahoo News her interest in the Dream Act had been sparked through College Track, an initiative she founded to help low-income and minority students attend college. Many of the students in the program are undocumented.

“They’re our children’s friends. They are people we know. This is a huge national problem that needs resolution,” Powell Jobs said.

The Dream Act would legalize young people under the age of 30 who entered the U.S. before they were 15 and have lived in the country continuously for five years. To earn legal status and eventually a path to citizenship, applicants would have to prove they have no criminal record and either enlist in the military or attend at least two years of college. (Some versions of the bill would require only a high-school degree for the legal status.)

The Dream Act has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats since its introduction even as the two parties have been sharply divided over other aspects of immigration reform. But the bill has never been enacted—the closest it came was in December 2010, when it passed the House but fell 5 votes short in the Senate of the 60 needed to avert a filibuster.

Despite criticism by some immigration rights activists for a record number of deportations during his administration, Obama took other steps last June to offer young undocumented immigrants some legal protections.

Obama announced a program of “deferred action,” directing his administration to stop deporting those under 30 who came to the U.S. before age 16 and have a high-school diploma or have enlisted in the military. Those who qualify can also apply for a renewable two-year work permit.

“They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Obama said when he announced the plan in July.

The action did not confer a path to citizenship and was considered only a partial remedy for young immigrants seeking legal status. But it was praised as a step in the right direction by immigration rights activists, even as Republicans claimed it was baldly political and circumvented the legislative process.

After Obama soundly won re-election in November in part by taking 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, Republicans have begun to reassess their position on immigration and, in particular, the provisions of the Dream Act.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a GOP rising star, has indicated he will introduce some immigration reform measures that could include expedited legal status for young undocumented immigrants. But Rubio’s earlier proposal to legalize DREAMers did not include a path to citizenship, making it a nonstarter for most immigration rights activists.

Powell Jobs said Rubio’s latest discussion of granting expedited status to young immigrants seemed “reasonable and principled,” but that she wanted to learn more. “The key is to see the legislation once it’s written,” she said.

The young people taping their stories for thedreamisnow.org are unlikely to face legal backlash or deportation because of Obama’s deferred action directive. But they could face other repercussions, like potentially losing their jobs if they don’t yet have work permits.

Cendy, a 16-year-old high-school sophomore from Aurora, Colo., said she was willing to take her chances.

Cendy, who declined to give her last name to Yahoo News to protect her parents, said she agreed to be part of the project in part to dispense with her secret.

“It was a little scary at first,” she said. “But the benefit of coming out, not being afraid anymore, got a lot of weight off my shoulders.”


How the immigration deal got made

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, DREAM Act, education, Immigration Law Leave a comment
By: Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown and Anna Palmer (POLITICO)
April 17, 2013 05:03 AM EDT
The meeting was supposed to be a half-hour update for immigration reform proponents — but they weren’t about to let the Democratic senators get off that easily.The advocates were furious that Democrats might cave to Republican demands to make the pathway to citizenship contingent upon border security benchmarks, including the sign off of governors from southwestern states. They felt locked out of the process. And now, they had no idea what the negotiators were trading away just weeks before the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was slated to be publicly released.

Frank Sharry, a longtime proponent of a comprehensive bill, aggressively protested the border language to Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Robert Menendez — and as a whole, the group warned that if an anti-reform governor like Arizona’s Jan Brewer were given veto power, the emerging proposal would be a “big problem for us.”

(Also on POLITICO: Tragedy interrupts immigration momentum)

Schumer stayed at the February session an extra 40 minutes, even missing his flight back to New York, to reassure advocates that they weren’t being sold out. But he also advised them to step back in line: “This is what we have to do to get a path to citizenship. You have to understand that.”

The intense back-channel talks between members, staffers and outside groups have produced the most sweeping immigration bill in six years. The legislation comes after weeks of tense member-level meetings — often with powerful special interests they had to keep at bay in order to craft a fragile, bipartisan coalition. The deal required painful compromises, suffered near breakdowns and endured cooling-off periods, including when the group walked away from the negotiating table for part of the Easter recess before re-engaging in the horse trading.

Powerful aides to several senators, particularly to Schumer and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), pieced together a compromise driven as much by trying to get the policy right as by giving the senators a way to sell it politically.

Rubio emerged as a source of constant attention, concern and lobbying within the group. Republicans and Democrats were desperate to keep him in the fold, convinced that they needed his support to sell the proposal to deeply skeptical conservatives.

(DOCUMENT: Senate Gang of 8 immigration reform bill)

“By the way, tell your boss he already paid for the caterer, he’s got to go through with the wedding now,” Schumer’s chief aide Leon Fresco, fired off in an email to Rubio’s negotiator, Enrique Gonzalez, when it looked like the Florida Republican was getting wobbly late last month.

President Barack Obama was forced to step in and personally convince Republicans that he was acting in good faith after the apparently inadvertently released draft of a White House bill.

After 24 meetings among senators themselves and marathon sessions between staff for months, the senators struck a deal that, if passed, would enact the most significant changes to immigration laws in nearly three decades. But to get there, they’ve had to cajole their longtime allies to get behind the effort and aggressively move to limit defections from major players who have the power to stop the bill in its tracks. And they went to great lengths to prevent media leaks, even instituting a self-imposed rule to thwart the press from staking out their consequential meetings.

(CARTOONS: Matt Wuerker on immigration)

“There is always tense times in these kinds of things,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leader of the group. “But there was always a commitment to get things done.”

This account of the behind-the-scenes drama that culminated Tuesday with the release of a bipartisan bill was drawn from dozens of interviews with key players at the White House and in Congress who were directly involved in the talks.

Recruiting Rubio

Nobody would have predicted it a year ago, when the leading Republican presidential candidate was touting “self-deportation” as a solution for dealing with the country’s undocumented population.

But Obama’s 40-percentage-point win among Hispanics changed the dynamic, literally overnight. Top conservative pundits, such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, removed a major obstacle when they endorsed a pathway to citizenship. Even Republican Party leaders suggested it was time to take up the issue.

And the major Republican players on immigration, after years of distancing themselves from Democratic proponents of reform, wanted to give it another go.

“We’re getting the band back together,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Schumer in a phone call the weekend after the November electionreferring to the 2007 group that worked unsuccessfully for a comprehensive bill. Schumer claimed his heart went “pitter-patter” when he heard McCain would be involved.

And yet, the same circle of negotiators from past reform efforts just wouldn’t do.

The experience from 2007 was seared into memories, studied and analyzed for clues of past mistakes and how proponents could make it right the next time. The politics in 2013 for Republicans supportive of immigration reform were as favorable as they had ever been, diminishing the odds that a fevered, impassioned right wing would scuttle the reform effort before it even started. McCain and Graham knew the issue inside and out, but they lacked gravitas with conservatives.

The group needed a protection policy, and top Democrats and Republicans came up with the same solution: Recruit Rubio.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Graham and McCain to include Rubio in the talks, while Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lobbied Rubio at the Senate gym.

The tea party darling and 2016 presidential prospect pushed his own version of the DREAM Act to legalize young undocumented immigrants last year, but like most Republicans, he had his doubts about a comprehensive approach to overhauling the system and favored dealing with the issues one by one.

Durbin told Rubio that a pathway to citizenship needed to be a central part of the talks. If that’s the case, Rubio responded, then tougher border security measures must be part of the plan, and the cost of legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants needed to undergo a rigorous review as well.

“He said [a pathway to citizenship] would have to be under some pretty strict circumstances, and I said, ‘Let’s talk,’” Durbin recalled on Tuesday.

Thus, they had their first deal — one in a series of concessions, allowances and considerations that Rubio would secure from Democrats and Republicans over the next three months on policy, politics and PR strategy, all with a single-minded goal of keeping him on board and conservatives at bay.

The negotiators rounded out the group with two freshman senators whose home states underscored the imperative of getting something done. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), as a border-state official, was one of the original architects of comprehensive immigration reform during his time in the House. And Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) owed his election victory to Hispanic voters, who rewarded him for his full-throated endorsement of immigration reform on the 2010 campaign trail when even other Democrats weren’t talking it up.

The group tried to expand to 10 members, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) clashed with McCain over whether to do a comprehensive bill or a piecemeal approach. Had Lee joined, Democrats were prepared to recruit Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

But in retrospect, it turned out to be the right mix of liberals and conservatives, veterans and newcomers, taskmasters and political tacticians.

Schumer spent time early on assuring the group that his party, including Obama, didn’t want to jam Republicans. They wanted a solution, not a political issue, for the next election. The process would be fair, Schumer said, and each senator had an equal vote inside the negotiating room. In a subtle nod to that political equanimity, they alternated meetings between McCain’s office and Schumer’s office, and sometimes met off the Senate floor during votes.

McCain forced the group to work quickly, assuming that the political will to get something done would diminish with each passing week. And Schumer swore that the negotiations would not become a repeat of the 2009 bipartisan health care talks led by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that dragged on for months. No media stakeouts at each meeting, Schumer insisted.

“This isn’t Baucus Beach,” a senior Democratic aide said, referring to the area outside Baucus’s office where reporters camped out during the health care talks and harangued senators for details.

The group spoke so frequently that Schumer memorized the seven other senator’s phone numbers. They even developed their own inside jokes.

In one of the first meetings, Schumer was reading aloud the agenda when his chief immigration aide, Leon Fresco, a precocious Cuban-American lawyer from Miami who approached negotiating sessions like they were debate camp, piped up to correct his boss after he had misspoke.

“Shut up, Leon,” McCain told Fresco, prompting the group to erupt in laughter. McCain repeated that same line — “Shut up, Leon” — whenever Schumer opened the meetings with a review of the agenda.

Fresco turned out to be a dominant force in the talks, as did Rubio aide Gonzalez, another Hispanic-American immigration attorney from Florida whom Rubio hired earlier this year to represent him in the talks. The two became friendly as they haggled over dinner with the rest of the Senate aides, a mix of Hill newcomers like them and low-key immigration veterans like Kerri Talbot, who represented Menendez (D-N.J.), and Joe Zogby, counsel to Durbin.

Fresco came to Schumer in 2009 on the recommendation of fellow Yale Law School classmate Serena Hoy, a top immigration aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). After immigration talks failed in 2010, Fresco ingratiated himself with the press-savvy Schumer by coming up with sure-fire media hits. He tipped off the senator to a $45 baggage carry-on fee instituted by Spirit Airlines, which Fresco flew back and forth to Miami, and Schumer promptly introduced a bill to ban it, garnering blanket coverage.

Fresco, who Schumer called “my immigration genius,” brought that political eye to the talks, repeatedly coming up solutions that allowed both parties to claim victory.

“Brutal” talks almost fall apart

Just as the group moved forward internally, an administration slip-up pulled them back.

The leak of the White House draft bill to USA Today in February seemed to confirm the GOP’s worst fears that Obama didn’t really want the group to succeed. Schumer felt blindsided and Rubio declared the liberal document “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Obama, who had a confrontational relationship with McCain and Graham since the Benghazi attacks, called the two Republicans to the White House — and in a breakthrough for the trio, they left convinced that the president would back them up.

But the next problem was just around the corner.

The group had made it a top priority to avert the same labor and business battles attracting future low-skilled foreign workers that doomed the immigration bill in 2007. Yet the issue still proved to be one of the chief obstacles again, leading to an impasse. By several accounts, it amounted to the low point in the negotiations.

“The issue at one point looked like it just stopped us cold,” Durbin acknowledged.

Lawmakers had wanted wanted to issue a joint statement before they left for the Easter break saying a deal had been reached on all the major points of contention. But that never happened.

On March 20 and 21, just before the recess, the group was holed up in a conference room just off the Senate floor. Late on the night of March 20, Schumer tweaked an offer previously rejected by the GOP senators, but this time the Republicans believed they could live with it.

But labor balked.

Schumer called up Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, who told the senator, “I know you’re trying. But we’d need this language changed,” according to a source familiar with the call.

Labor unions began to accuse the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of not working in good faith.

Staff and the senators were drained — particularly since those talks occurred just off the Senate floor and through the night during a marathon budget voting session that went until nearly 5 a.m.

It got so bad that they took a break to cool off over the recess.

“We kinda went to our respective corners and had to rethink,” Flake said, describing the talks as “brutal.”

He said he thought the group “wouldn’t salvage it.”

“Coming back to the room and trying to hash it out — we all invested so much time and effort into this and to see it break down like that, it didn’t sit very well,” Flake said.

While negotiations stalled in Washington, four of the gang members headed to the Arizona border with Mexico — publicly keeping a positive face on the progress they were making while revealing few details on how they planned to pay for the billions expected to go to border security.

At that time, staff dialed back their negotiations to give everyone a break from the heated and marathon sessions. After the breakdown, the AFL-CIO’s Ana Avendaño, the Chamber’s Randy Johnson and Fresco continued to try and hammer out the details — and they continued to narrow their differences until they struck a March 29 agreement over a plan to balance the need for foreign workers with the concerns over costing American jobs.

Not wanting one of them to back out, at 9:30 that night from his Brooklyn home, Schumer held a conference call with Trumka, and Tom Donohue, the Chamber leader, and both said “yes.” Donahue suggested the three should grab dinner to celebrate, and Schumer offered to pay for the bill.

The Saturday after the deal was reached between the Chamber and the AFL, Schumer called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was being briefed about the talks.

Upon learning of the deal, McDonough said: “You guys are kicking ass.”

But on Easter Sunday, Schumer was surprised when Rubio blasted out a statement saying that it was premature to consider a deal in hand, prompting media speculation that the Florida Republican was poised to drop out of the talks.

Fresco shot an email to Gonzalez later that day, urging him to keep Rubio on board. And a worried Schumer called Rubio that Monday night, and the two men spoke by phone, assuaging the New York Democrat’s fears that the Florida Republican was wavering over the proposal.

Still, there were ample issues left to resolve. But the group leaked details of the agreement to create the impression that a deal was imminent on the overall bill.

The full group did not meet again until the middle of last week when an agreement appeared to be within reach, electing instead for staff-level talks and negotiations among a smaller number of senators as they worked through the remaining sticking points over the specifics of high-tech visas and a separate agriculture-worker visa program.

As the rest of Washington and country gets a look at what the group spent months negotiating, the senators are optimistic that they struck the right balance, even as the compromises will anger many people.

Sharry, the legalization advocate, said he can now see what the negotiators were trying to do on border security.

Rubio can tell conservatives that the border will finally be secured, employers will be required to check the immigration status of their workers, and visa holders will be tracked. But Democrats can say border security benchmarks won’t impede the path to citizenship.

“It is pretty clever,” Sharry acknowledged this week. “They are both right.”

Tarini Parti contributed to this report.

© 2013 POLITICO LLC

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