Late last year, Marco Rubio called his old friend Enrique Gonzalez and asked him to come to Washington to craft the biggest overhaul of immigration law in a generation. Gonzalez had never worked on Capitol Hill, which was exactly why the Florida Republican wanted him. He’d spent two decades as an immigration lawyer in the Miami area, most recently as a partner at Fragomen, where he helped Carnival, Viacom, and other companies obtain visas for their foreign workers. (Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg Businessweek’s parent company, retains Fragomen.) Gonzalez took the job, and six months later, on June 11, the Senate began debating the 1,077-page bill he wrote with the staff of Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (N.Y.). Now Gonzalez is working with Republicans on a Rubio-sponsored amendment to mandate border security measures. Without them, the bill isn’t likely to win Rubio’s support—or that of other conservatives.
The friendship between Rubio and Gonzalez goes back 16 years, to when they were commissioners for the city of West Miami. Gonzalez knows how to talk to Democrats—he used to be one—but more than anything he knows the immigration system. “He understands it,” says Democratic Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.), a bill co-sponsor, “and he brought a lot to the discussion.”