Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Latino Lawyer to Head Civil Rights Division; Announcement Sparks Accusations of Immigration Avoidance

Last Friday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate attorney Tom Perez to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice.  Perez, who is a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer and consumer advocate, currently serves as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR).  A graduate of Brown University, Harvard Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, he has spent his entire career in public service and most recently was part of the Obama transition team overseeing the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.

Despite praise for Perez, Friday’s announcement also raised concerns among immigration advocates and Latino leaders that a widely talked about nominee was passed over for this position because the Obama administration was not ready to tackle the immigration issue.

The name of Tom Saenz, counsel to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, had been discussed for the Civil Rights position for a couple of months and according to some reports was the person the President was leaning towards nominating.  Saenz is a former senior attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, a personal friend of Saenz, states that he was offered the job originally, a fact which Saenz will not confirm, but was then told late last week that the White House had decided to go with Perez instead.

The BLT, Blog of the Legal Times, quotes Molina as accusing the Obama administration “of seeking to avoid a controversial nomination process, where immigration would figure prominently. ‘It was a political decision from the White House, because of Tom’s work on immigration rights,’ she says.”  Molina, who is a MALDEF board member, minces no words when she argues that for Saenz to be passed over for the position “speaks volumes of the lack of courage of the administration.”

Many counter that Perez, likewise, has a background in immigration issues including a stint on the board of Casa de Maryland which is a not-for-profit immigrant assistance organization.

Blog of the Legal Times