Miami immigration guru among many leaving Obama administration for private sector

A 1995 Miami Beach High grad who rose to be New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer’s right-hand man on immigration and then led 300 attorneys at the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration is returning to private practice.

Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general for the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice and head of the Office of Immigration, is one of thousands of presidential appointees leaving their positions before President Barack Obama leaves office on Jan. 20. He will return to his old law firm, Holland & Knight.

President-elect Donald Trump needs to hire about 4,000 appointees. He’s nominated his secretaries of state, treasury, defense and attorney general. Below them are many more deputy and assistant secretaries, ambassadors, agency directors, attorneys and special advisers.

Before heading to the Justice Department, Fresco served as staff director for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security. He led staff negotiations and helped write the controversial 2013 immigration overhaul legislation that would have put millions of immigrants here illegally on a path to citizenship. The legislation passed in the Senate, but failed to gain ground in the House.

Fresco then moved to the Justice Department where he defended some of the administration’s most controversial enforcement policies. He fought immigration advocates who sought to force the government to appoint lawyers for immigrant children facing deportation proceedings. He also defended the administration’s use of family detention centers to hold mothers and children as their asylum petitions proceeded through the courts.