Monday, March 23, 2009

Latino vs. Latino

Why do we waste so much energy fighting each other? I was overjoyed when President Obama nominated Thomas Perez, currently Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, as Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Aside from being a Dominican-American, Perez brings to the position the experience of actually having served as a federal prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division, where he prosecuted and supervised the prosecution of some of the Department’s most high profile civil rights cases, including a hate crimes case in Texas involving a group of white supremacists who went on a deadly, racially motivated crime spree. Perez later served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under Attorney General Janet Reno. Among other responsibilities, he chaired the interagency Worker Exploitation Task Force, which oversaw a variety of initiatives designed to protect vulnerable workers.

Mr. Perez was also the first Latino ever elected to the Montgomery County Council where he served from 2002-2006, and he has been a tireless advocate for the immigrant community.

He was a member of the board of directors of CASA de Maryland – one of our most important area immigrant rights organizations -- from 1995 to 2002, and served for some time as the president of their board. When CASA opened a new center for day laborers in Baltimore on December 20, 2007, Thomas Perez strongly supported them declaring that: "Labor centers are the most cost-effective investment of government money I can imagine ... We're providing employment, addressing public safety by creating an orderly process, keeping people from street corners and protecting workers."

This should be enough of a record that all Latinos could get behind this hermano who has considerable experience in precisely the legal areas his new position would entail. But no. Instead, National Council of La Raza has issued a statement saying that they are profoundly disappointed because another hermano, Thomas Saenz, an advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, was passed over for the job. They believe it is because of Saenz’ strong record as an immigrant rights activist and seem to think that this reflects a lack of commitment on President Obama's part to immigration reform.

Why can’t we come together, hermanos? Why can’t we thank our lucky stars that we have two brothers, both of whom are eminently qualified to fill the Department of Justice position? Why can’t we trust that President Obama selected the person he felt was best qualified for the particular position he was looking to fill? Why can’t we stop fighting each other and start pulling together for the good of the whole Latino community? United we stand; divided we fall.

Photo: Thomas Perez addresses a rally in Maryland in support of H.B. 6, a bill to provide in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrant parents.

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