Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Complexities of Immigration Reform Are Further Complicated: Obama Administration Dumps Civil Rights Advocate Tom Saenz

As Bill Hing wrote earlier today, there is growing pressure for comprehensive immigration reform.  Yesterday, Daily Kos mades the argument for the need for the Obama administration to push reform.

But there is a possible firestorm coming with the administration pulling the rug out from under Tom Saenz, the former former vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, who had been rumored to be the next head of the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice.  Saenz is currently serving as counsel to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Typical of the negative response among Latino activists -- and I have talked to many over the last few days -- is that of Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).  She expressed profound disappointment today that Saenz is no longer a candidate to head the Civil Rights Division:

“Thomas Saenz was a great choice to oversee a department tasked with enforcing federal statutes to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion, and national origin. He follows the law meticulously and is one of the best litigators our country has. He has dedicated his entire career to the fight for justice, equal opportunity, and dignity for those who have no voice,” said Murguía. “We are concerned that his name may have been pulled from consideration over his ‘position on immigration’ and the signal that it sends to young lawyers weighing careers in upholding the nation’s civil rights laws. Mr. Saenz has successfully litigated cases based on the merits of immigration law and has done so with integrity and professionalism. Where he stands on an issue is not as significant as his understanding of the law and his ability to argue the facts.” “I am confident that at his confirmation hearing Mr. Saenz would have been able to address any questions related to his litigation work on immigration based on the facts of the cases he argued and the law. Unfortunately he will not be given that opportunity,” continued Murguía. “This action may lead some to question whether the White House is ready to fulfill its promise on immigration reform. Along with the nomination of Tom Perez as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, the Latino community will be looking for further reassurance that this is not the case. Nonetheless, the administration missed an opportunity to bring the debate back to the merits of the law, rather than succumb to the shrill voices of fear,” concluded Murguía.

It appears that Saenz's immigration work for MALDEF, including his successful litigation halting the implementation of California's Proposition 187, proved to be "too controversial" for his nomination to go forward.  Given that the Obama administration apparently caved on this nomination, one wonders whether it will have the backbone to press on immigration reform.  One also has to wonder with MALDEF, unlike the NAACP, has somehow become radioactive in national politics because it fights for the civil rights of immigrants. 

UPDATE   The BLT: Blog of Legal Times reports that "Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is a close friend of Thomas Saenz, says he was offered the AAG spot for the Civil Rights Division and accepted, but he was told on Thursday that the White House was going with Perez instead. Molina accuses the White House 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."

The L.A. Times report on the controversy is here.



| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Complexities of Immigration Reform Are Further Complicated: Obama Administration Dumps Civil Rights Advocate Tom Saenz: