ILW.COM - the immigration portal Immigration Daily

< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

CIR Update: White House, Democrats All Over The Place

by Rami Fakhoury and Mark Levey

Sen. Schumer Issues Game Plan; Meanwhile, Rahm Emanuel Says He's Ready to Throw in the Towel

Washington, D.C., June 30. President Obama's statement Thursday supporting Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) was accompanied by mixed messages from key White House and Congressional figures.

In a statement delivered before 34 Congressional backers of the measure, Obama observed, "It's going to require some heavy lifting, it's going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policymaking over short-term politics." The President asserted:

"My administration is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform."1

However, even before the conference began, some in the Administration stated a more pessimistic view of the prospects for CIR passage this year. Rahm Emanuel, the President's Chief of Staff, repeated his previously expressed reservations about the political viability of a broad immigration bill. "One of the reasons you're having a meeting is the votes aren't there," he said.

Emanuel added, "It's not impossible to do it this year," he said. "Could you get it in this year? Yes. I think the more important thing is to get it started this year." White House aides were reportedly looking for a compromise that would allow Congress to pass a bill this session, late in 2009 or early next year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev.) has publicly stated immigration reform is one of his top legislative priorities, while House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is quoted as saying she wants the measure to first pass the Senate. Backers of the bill on all sides concede that there are significant hurdles to any such measure, and that increased border security and biometric identification would likely have to be part of the mix to gain bi-partisan support and the votes of some conservative Democrats.

Addressing concerns about the political implications for Democrats of delay, Emanuel concluded, "It's better that it happens politically. It's also better that we continue to focus on improving the economy."2

Senate Republicans present at the White House meeting echoed the pessimistic tone. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has long backed bi-partisan comprehensive reform said that chances of passage do not appear promising. "This is tough stuff. Tough politics," observed Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., a co-sponsor of the 2007 comprehensive bill that failed to pass the Senate.

Meanwhile, support among Democrats for a measure containing a mix of new enforcement and benefits appear mixed. Among the strongest advocates is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-NY). Prospects for an approvable package seem best in the Senate, where support for the business end of the pro-immigration coalition has traditionally been firm.

Earlier in the week, Sen. Schumer delivered an address before the Migration Policy Institute that outlined what he believes is necessary for Senate passage of the measure. Some of this may not come as welcome news to employers. The Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security underlined that he believes the past failure of CIR was because it wasn't stringent enough. Schumer stated,

"I think on the part of the left, there's an understanding that unless we convince American we're going to be really tough ... it's the only way to do it."

Sen. Schumer's points out that toughness applies to the business immigration as well. Principle 6 is most relevant to companies, particularly in the IT sector3

During the last few months, I have thought long and hard about what an immigration bill must look like in order to obtain 60 votes in the Senate.

After my many meetings with stakeholders, and other members of Congress, I truly believe that the fundamentals for immigration reform exist if we coalesce around seven key principles that the American people overwhelmingly support.

The main idea that underlies each of these seven principles is that the American people are fundamentally pro-legal immigration and anti-illegal immigration.

We will only pass comprehensive immigration reform when we recognize this fundamental concept. The following seven principles are all based on this concept, and comprise what I believe to be the framework for a bill that can receive overwhelming Congressional support:

  1. Illegal immigration is wrong, and a primary goal of comprehensive immigration reform must be to dramatically curtail future illegal immigration.
  2. Operational control of our borders--through significant additional increases in infrastructure, technology, and border personnel--must be achieved within a year of enactment of legislation.
  3. A biometric-based employer verification system-with tough enforcement and auditing-is necessary to significantly diminish the job magnet that attracts illegal aliens to the United States and to provide certainty and simplicity for employers.
  4. All illegal aliens present in the United States on the date of enactment of our bill must quickly register their presence with the United States Government-and submit to a rigorous process of converting to legal status and earning a path to citizenship-or face imminent deportation.
  5. Family reunification is a cornerstone value of our immigration system; By dramatically reducing illegal immigration, we can create more room for both family immigration and employment-based immigration.
  6. We must encourage the world's best and brightest individuals to come to the United States and create the new technologies and businesses that will employ countless American workers, but must discourage businesses form using our immigration laws as a means to obtain temporary and less-expensive foreign labor to replace capable American workers, and finally
  7. We must create a system that converts the current flow of primarily low-skilled illegal immigrants into the United States into a more manageable and controlled flow of legal immigrants who can be absorbed by our economy.

Senator Schumer concluded on an expansive note on the sixth principle:

Sixth, we need to recognize the important contribution that high-skilled immigrants have already made, and must continue to make, toward revitalizing and reinventing the American economy.

No immigration system would be worthwhile if it is unable to attract the best and brightest minds of the world to come to the United States and create jobs for Americans-as has been the case for Yahoo, Google, Intel, E-Bay, and countless other companies.

That being said, any reformed immigration system must be successful in encouraging the next Albert Einstein to emigrate permanently to the United States while, at the same time, discouraging underpaid, temporary workers from taking jobs that could and should be filled by qualified American workers.

If we read between the lines, it is clear that Sen. Schumer is repeating a theme that is increasingly being heard about business immigration, particularly about the H-1B and L-1 nonimmigrant categories. Any legislative amendment that comes out of this Congress will require some compromise, even by business, and may contain some measures akin to the Durbin-Grassley bill introduced this spring.

That means CIR is likely to include, at least for H-1B, measures that could require labor market tests, and there may as well be some raising of eligibility requirements so that the only the "best and brightest", those with advanced degrees with skills and top salaries consistent with "extraordinary ability" will qualify. As was the case the last go-around for CIR in 2007, some may conclude that the best possible Bill that passes Congress this year could be no Bill at all.

End Notes

1Gary Martin, San Antonio Express-News, "Obama Jump-Starts Immigration Reform Debate", June 26, 2009,

2Michael D. Shear and Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, "Emanuel Says Immigration Reform Bill Lacks Votes to Pass", June 26, 2009,

3Jessica Brady, Roll Call, 'Schumer Says Immigration Reform Will Happen", June 24, 2009.

About The Author

Rami D. Fakhoury is the founding and managing member of the “AV” rated boutique Corporate and Business Immigration Law firm of the Fakhoury Law Group, P.C. His practice focuses on business-based employment immigration, particularly in the Information Technology, Engineering industry, Health care workers, investors, Academics and individuals of exceptional ability. Mr. Fakhoury has extensive experience in the areas of Corporate Immigration, and has worked as In-House Counsel for Syntel Corporation, a Fortune 1000 company in the Information Technology industry. In particular, his practice focuses on H, L, E, and O visas, Labor Certifications, Advance Degree Professionals, Multinational Executives and Outstanding Researchers and Professors. Mr. Fakhoury has represented clients at U.S. Consulates abroad and is an international lecturer and fellow for the Center for International Legal Studies (CILS) Mr. Fakhoury has served as a Speaker at the American Bar Association – International Law Section, International Bar Association (IBA), London, UK and Immigration Law teleconferences, ILW. Mr. Fakhoury is the Managing Editor of The Consular Processing Guide, ILW.COM (2009) and is also the Editor in Chief for US Immigration matters for the International Law Office (an International Bar Association and Ameri can Corporate Counsel partner) Mr. Fakhoury is a Member of the State Bar of Michigan; International Law Section; American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA); International Bar Association; Immigration Law Committee; and Fellow, Center of International Legal Studies, Salzburg Austria; American Bar Association- International Section; TechAmerica-Immigration Policy Committee and Tech Serve, and TiE-Immigration Policy Forum- Michigan. He is also the Editor of The Consular Posts Book. To learn more, see:

Mark Levey is one of the Editor's of The Consular Posts Book. He has 20 years immigration-related experience as a case manager, editor and international consultant. He has worked for major D.C. law firms and abroad as a USAID prime contractor Subject Matter Expert on immigration. Mr. Levey has numerous publications related to immigration law and procedure, global trade in services, and regulatory reform. He is former Associate Editor of Fragomen publications Immigration Law Reports and Chapter Author of the NAFSA Foreign Student Advisors Manual. Mr. Levey has prepared course materials for presenters at CLE courses sponsored by AILA, DC Bar Association, and the Inter-American Bar Association.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.