Top Civil Rights Attorney Promises Increased Enforcement of Discrimination Laws

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2009

The nation’s top civil rights attorney vowed Friday to step up enforcement of laws against housing bias, hate crimes, racially targeted predatory lending and other discriminatory acts in what he called a new era of “transformation and restoration.”

Thomas Perez, U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights, also said during a keynote address to an Asian Pacific American civil rights conference in Los Angeles that he would “depoliticize decision-making” and work to restore trust between career attorneys and political appointees in the Justice Department.

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Perez lauded the Bush administration’s work on ensuring voter access to bilingual ballots, combating religious discrimination and cracking down on human trafficking.

But he said that too few cases were filed to challenge alleged discrimination in other areas, such as voting practices, voter registration procedures and what he called “toxic predatory lending” targeted at minority consumers.

Such lending, he said, helped exacerbate the foreclosure crisis as the federal government failed to use fair housing and equal credit laws to attack the practices.

In contrast, Perez said, the Obama administration planned to use all legal tools available to enforce all civil rights laws.

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Perez said the Obama administration’s renewed emphasis on civil rights enforcement was reflected in a 20% proposed budget increase that would allow his office to add more than 100 new staff members. {snip}

Perez, a 48-year-old Dominican American sworn into office two weeks ago, worked for 12 years as a civil rights attorney under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He most recently served as Maryland’s labor secretary.

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