Thomas Perez Could Become Only Latino in Obama Cabinet

Jordan Fabian, ABC News, March 11, 2013

President Barack Obama is expected to tap Thomas Perez, the head of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, to serve as his next labor secretary. The appointment would make Perez the only Latino in the president’s second-term cabinet.

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If selected and confirmed by the Senate, Perez would replace former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who resigned from the administration in January. Another Latino cabinet official, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, is expected to leave his position by the end of this month. Ernest Moniz, Obama’s nominee for energy secretary, is the grandson of Portugese immigrants from the Azores islands.

The news of Perez’s impending appointment comes after Latino groups pressured the administration to appoint Latinos to fill vacant cabinet roles.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 30 large advocacy groups, sent a letter to Obama in January recommending that he select three Latinos to serve in cabinet-level positions. The letter provided a list of 18 potential nominees, including Perez.

“With the Latino community heading into the epicenter of an historic policy debate around immigration reform, and related policies, your Cabinet can ill-afford to not have the unique perspective and voice of high-level Latino members,” wrote NHLA Chair Hector E. Sanchez. “At this critical time our voices need to be amplified, not diminished.”

Perez, a first-generation American and the son of Dominican parents, has a long career of government service on issues that pertain to Latinos.

He gained notoriety last year when the Justice Department filed a civil-rights lawsuit against Joe Arpaio, sheriff in Arizona’s Maricopa County, alleging that his department discriminates against Latinos. {snip}

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Perez, a Harvard Law School graduate, has also played a key role in the Obama administration’s defense of the Voting Rights Act, which is being challenged in a case before the Supreme Court. The suit focuses on a key section of the 1965 law that requires jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to seek permission from the federal government before changing voting rules.

And while serving in the Clinton Justice Department during the 1990s, Perez headed the Worker Exploitation Task Force, “which oversaw a variety of initiatives designed to protect vulnerable workers,” according to his official biography. {snip}

If he is selected as labor secretary, Perez would have many issues on his plate. Congress is considering a sweeping immigration overhaul and one of the key sticking points has been how to bring in more high-skilled and low-skilled immigrant workers into the United States. Perez has the support of organized labor groups, who have balked at a traditional guest-worker program for lower-skilled immigrants.

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