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Obama to nominate Thomas E. Perez as Labor secretary

Perez, the top federal civil rights lawyer, could play a key role in efforts to overhaul the immigration system.

March 18, 2013|By Christi Parsons, Washington Bureau
  • Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas E. Perez.
Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas E. Perez. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to nominate the government's top-ranking civil rights lawyer as the new secretary of Labor on Monday, a key position as the administration prepares to take on immigration reform.

Thomas E. Perez's nomination had been expected, but the administration said last week that the announcement was not imminent. If confirmed by the Senate, Perez would be the only Latino in Obama's second-term Cabinet. He is the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

An administration official said Sunday that Obama would name Perez to succeed Hilda L. Solis, a former member of Congress from California who decided to leave the Labor post. The other Latino in the first-term Cabinet, former Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, is stepping down as secretary of the Interior. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the nomination before the White House announcement.

Perez, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is a first-generation Dominican American with a long career in public service. Although Democratic supporters consider him a vigorous advocate of worker rights, he could face a challenge from Republicans angry about initiatives at the Justice Department.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) objected last week when news of Perez's likely nomination surfaced. In a statement, he accused Perez of costing the U.S. "potentially hundreds of millions of dollars" by failing to intervene in a Minnesota lawsuit involving whistle-blowers.

In addition, Perez has filed civil rights lawsuits against law enforcement agencies, including one against Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff known for targeting illegal immigrants. The federal lawsuit charges Arpaio's department with a "pattern of unconstitutional conduct" against Latinos.

As Labor secretary, Perez could play a key role in helping the president craft, pass and implement immigration policy. One of the most challenging issues Obama will face is the Republican-backed idea of creating a temporary worker program for immigrants. Obama has not yet explicitly embraced the idea.

During Perez's tenure, the Civil Rights Division stepped up enforcement of human trafficking laws and efforts to ensure that veterans can keep their civilian jobs while serving in the military. Before his 2009 nomination to lead the Civil Rights Division, Perez was secretary of Maryland's Department of Labor.

Perez was 12 when his father died. His four siblings are doctors, according to his administration biography, and he is the first lawyer in his family.

He was a law professor for six years at the University of Maryland law school and a part-time professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

He holds an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master's of public policy from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a law degree from Harvard.

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