CIR Update: White House, Democrats All Over The Place
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.
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:
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.
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 Notes1Gary Martin, San Antonio Express-News, "Obama Jump-Starts Immigration Reform Debate", June 26, 2009, http://www.mysanantonio.com/news./Obama_jump_starts_immigration_reform_debate.html
2Michael D. Shear and Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, "Emanuel Says Immigration Reform Bill Lacks Votes to Pass", June 26, 2009,
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: http://www.ilw.com/books/ConsularPosts.shtm.
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.
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