Cecilia Munoz on Sept. 7, 2006 (Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated…)
As the White House embarks on another staff shakeup, President Obama announced Tuesday that he has tapped a senior aide, Cecilia Munoz, to run a major office that helps create and execute national domestic policy -- a perch that may empower her to bring fresh attention to the immigration issue.
Munoz comes to the job at a moment when the Obama administration faces myriad domestic policy challenges: high unemployment, a rocky housing market and an immigration system that is the target of widespread complaints. Raising the stakes even more, she’ll be running the Domestic Policy Council as Obama bids for a second term.
Munoz, the daughter of Bolivian immigrants, will succeed Melody Barnes, who resigned last year.
Munoz had been a deputy assistant to the president in charge of intergovernmental affairs, meaning she would engage with mayors and governors who had dealings with the White House. During the BP oil spill, for example, she worked with governors and state officials in the Gulf Coast region on the response and cleanup effort. She also led Obama’s efforts to find remedies for the immigration system.
"Over the past three years, Cecilia has been a trusted advisor who has demonstrated sound judgment day in and day out," Obama said in a prepared statement. "Cecilia has done an extraordinary job working on behalf of middle-class families, and I’m confident she'll bring the same unwavering dedication to her new position."
Munoz's promotion comes one day after Obama announced he is appointing budget director Jack Lew to succeed William M. Daley as chief of staff. With the installation of Lew and Munoz, Obama’s circle of senior advisors is largely set through the 2012 election.
Though the White House is often perceived as a bit of a boys club, Munoz is part of a core group of women serving below the senior-most level, operating largely out of the spotlight yet still wielding considerable influence. Barnes was another.
In 2000, she won one of the prestigious MacArthur "genius grants" for her work on civil rights and immigration. She came to the White House from the National Council of La Raza, which describes itself as the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. There, she oversaw a staff that dealt with civil rights, jobs, immigration, housing and poverty, among other issues, according to the White House.
As the White House official in charge of the immigration portfolio, Munoz has been a target of criticism from some activists unhappy about Obama's immigration policies.
The anger centers on two points: The administration's aggressive efforts to deport people living here illegally, and the president's failure to win passage of a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws that would provide a path to legal status for the 11 million people living here illegally.
Obama's response to those critics has been that he can't get enough Republicans to sign on to an immigration overhaul. And he says he wants to move away from blanket deportation of any undocumented immigrants caught in the enforcement net.
To that end, the administration last summer announced that it would use more discretion before deporting people -- easing up on children, students and those who pose no threat to national security.
Munoz's promotion was cheered by groups that are part of the president's political base.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a statement praising Munoz's selection, described her as a "longtime friend to the labor movement."
The Service Employees International Union also released a statement applauding the choice.
Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, a think tank, said in an interview that the appointment was "a home run."’
Kelley said she expects that Munoz, in her more prominent role, will "turbo-charge" the immigration debate in the White House.
"That is an issue that is near and dear to her heart,"’ Kelley said. "From one Latina to another, she deserves a big high-five."