Obama switch on civil rights post leaves Latinos fuming
By Tyche Hendricks
The San Francisco Chronicle, March 17, 2009
When Obama named Maryland Secretary of Labor Tom Perez as his nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, Friday, some Latino leaders cheered. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials called Perez 'exceptionally qualified.'
But many raised a cry of dismay, not over Perez's qualifications, but because the job had been offered to another Latino civil rights expert, California's Thomas Saenz, and then abruptly rescinded the day before the Perez was named.
Saenz, a former top lawyer at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and now counsel to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is famed in Latino civil rights circles for leading the successful challenge to California's Proposition 187. That was the 1994 ballot measure that would have denied education and health services to undocumented immigrants.
But word of Saenz's selection — which became public in February — stirred up a swirl of opposition in the conservative blogosphere. Apparently the Los Angeles attorney was told that the push-back from immigration restrictionists was more than the administration wanted to take on.
'They were thinking it was going to be a hard confirmation and they didn't want to expend the political capital,' UC Berkeley's Maria Blanco told The Melting Pot. 'If they weren't willing to fight for him, what does it mean for immigration reform? That's what everyone's worried about.'
Obama may get an earful this week. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has a White House meeting with him Wednesday and they're expected to push for a commitment to an immigration bill this year. On Thursday the president will be in Los Angeles, and rumor has it he'll hold his town meeting at an East L.A. high school that MALDEF helped save.
Immigration restrictionists, meanwhile, are taking aim at Perez, who served for years on the board of an immigrant service organization, Casa de Maryland.