Miami’s Leon Fresco: The immigration mover and shaker you don’t know
Leon Fresco is now New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's right-hand man on immigration
Fresco and Schumer
By Franco Ordonez | McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — While Sen. Marco Rubio may be among the most prominent faces of the immigration battle in Washington, there is another Cuban-American from Miami who has been almost as critical to guiding the contentious proposal through the perils of Capitol Hill.
His name is Leon Fresco.
But unlike Rubio and thousands of other Cuban Miamians, Fresco’s a Democrat.
The 1995 Miami Beach High School graduate who twice made it to the national championships in debate – The Miami Herald gave the then 17-year-old a Silver Knight award – is now New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer’s right-hand man on immigration and arguably the debate’s most critical cog whom few people know.
Fresco, now 35, led the brutal negotiating sessions, some of which lasted until 2 a.m., with staffers of the so-called “Gang of Eight” bipartisan Senate team. He orchestrated several of the most delicate compromises, including the final and most difficult agreement between labor and business interests, which allowed both Democrats and Republicans to claim victory.
And it was his hands on the keyboard drafting passages of the original, 844-page bill that the group ratified.
“He put in the longest of all the long hours,” said Chandler Morse, the immigration staff negotiator for Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. “He was the one that everyone called.
The staffers, about 20 of them ranging in age from their late 20s to their mid-40s, had the daunting task of coming up with a new law of the land that likely would impact almost every aspect of American life, from who we let in the country to who we elect for office.
For Fresco, the charge was clear: Figure out a way. Find that sweet spot where everyone can get something they want, without conceding so much they can’t face their constituencies. Make a deal.
The group met daily from January to April in a room they dubbed “The Dome.”
Fresco set the group’s agenda.
It was actually two Cuban-Americans from Miami who dominated the immigration talks. Gonzalez, who also is a Miami immigration attorney, led the Republican negotiations.
Despite often butting heads, the two grew tight over shared cab rides home and late-night dinners at Johnny Rockets and Chipotle, according to Fresco and others familiar with the negotiations. They discussed law school and their legal backgrounds. Fresco went to Yale, Gonzalez to Cornell.
Leon Fresco at Yale LS
Gonzalez shared stories about his family, and Fresco sought out guidance on how to find the right balance between work and life. Fresco told Gonzalez about growing up in the Cuban Jewish neighborhood of North Bay Village in Miami Beach and going to school with future football star Chad Johnson.
After graduating from Yale Law School, Fresco returned to Miami to work at the law firm of Holland & Knight, where he mostly took pro-bono cases. He handled several high-profile cases including an HIV-positive Colombian fighting deportation and a schizophrenic man convicted of murder suing federal court for using “chemical agents” to subdue mentally ill inmates.
Chad Johnson-Ochocinco: not really relevant to the Leon Fresco story
Fresco joined Schumer’s staff in 2009, when Schumer was talking with Graham about bringing back up a comprehensive immigration package. The New York senator describes Fresco as “our immigration genius” and has his number memorized.
“I must dial it 10 times a day,” Schumer said.
He praised Fresco for coming up with some of the toughest legislative compromises, including breaking a deadlock between business and labor over wages for future immigrant workers.
“When there is a problem that seems intractable, you push the Leon button and out comes a solution that both sides like,” Schumer said.
But Fresco sometimes talks too much – or too loud. It’s Fresco whispering in Schumer’s ear during sensitive committee negotiations. But he speaks so loudly that rest of the group can hear him. “I say, ‘Leon, be quiet,’” Schumer said. “He’s brilliant, but he gives away the whole negotiating strategy in the first sentence.”
Citing Fresco’s message to Gonzalez, Schumer said Fresco may have been a little too pointed with his remark, but he called the message effective because he and others had felt blindsided by Rubio.
Fresco says he can relate to Rubio. He sees a lot of himself in Rubio. He grew up Republican with a “pro-Republican, pro right-wing” mindset that he maintained until law school. His father ran a family real estate business. His mother managed network programs for a cruise line
Rubio's man Enrique Gonzalez devoted many years to helping cruise lines get immigration visas for cheap foreign labor.
He feels that background, understanding the priorities of many Republicans, particularly Cubans, helped him work out deals with Republican staffers.
Fresco’s task now is protecting the core of the legislation from amendments being introduced. Fresco is already reviewing amendments senators offer to ensure they don’t undermine the agreement.
“Right now we go to the floor and Leon will be at my side making sure, when we see a new amendment that surprises us, we’ll assess it,” Schumer said. “We want to be as accepting as we can, but Leon will be there not only explaining what it does but explaining all its ramifications and whether it’s going to hurt the core of the bill.”
And Schumer expects that later this summer, when the House of Representatives starts its debate, Fresco will again be called upon to solve the stalemates.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @francoordonez
Here's some more on Fresco:
Staff Director - Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security
MARCH 2009 – PRESENT (3 years 3 months)
Attorney/Chesterfield Smith Fellow
Holland & Knight LLP
Partnership; 1001-5000 employees; Law Practice industry
SEPTEMBER 2005 – MARCH 2009 (3 years 7 months)
Represented clients in pro bono litigation matters, focusing on immigration, civil rights, and death-penalty litigation. Successfully represented over two-hundred immigrants from over twenty-five different countries before the United States Courts of Appeals, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Administrative Appeals Office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. ...
Law Clerk to the Honorable Daniel T.K. Hurley
United States District Court - Southern District of Florida
AUGUST 2003 – AUGUST 2005 (2 years 1 month)
Investment Banking Analyst
Public Company; 10,001+ employees; DB; Investment Banking industry
JULY 1999 – AUGUST 2000 (1 year 2 months)
Assisted in advising Deutsche Bank’s clients in several mergers, acquisitions, and leveraged buyouts in the chemicals industry by creating computerized models detailing the projected economic viability of potential transactions and explaining future recommended courses of action for clients to follow.
Yale Law School
2000 – 2003
Charles G. Albom Prize - Awarded to the student demonstrating the highest level of excellence in the areas of judicial and appellate advocacy in connection with the law school’s clinical program.
Activities and Societies: Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Clinic Board of Student Directors
University of Pennsylvania
B.A., Economics, Political Science
1995 – 1999
Summa Cum Laude,
Phi Beta Kappa,
Simon Kuznets Fellowship Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Economics Major
Activities and Societies:
Pi Kappa Alpha, President,
Fortunately, Marco Rubio is keeping an eye out for us on what Fresco and Schumer are up to. No way can a summa cum laude Penn grad / Yale Law Schooler outsmart a former football scholarship holder at the now-defunct Tarkio U.
In fact, Rubio has hired his own legal eagle to make sure Fresco and Schumer don't try to slip one past him.
I mean, what's the worst that could happen? America gets flooded by even more Hispanics, so the GOP figures they have to nominate for President somebody whose name ends in a vowel? Like, say, Marco Rubio?