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Marching for Perez

Hispanic activists take to streets for Obama labor nominee

Tom Perez / AP
• May 15, 2013 6:00 pm

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Hispanic activists vowed during a Wednesday march to keep a watchful eye on how Republicans treat Tom Perez, President Barack Obama’s sole Latino cabinet nominee.

Perez, Obama’s nominee to head the Labor Department, has come under fire for failing to respond to congressional requests for information pertaining to an alleged quid pro quo he orchestrated that cost taxpayer up to $200 million.

"We sent the message in November in 2012 and we are ready to send another message in 2014 and in 2016," CASA de Maryland executive director Gustavo Torres said at a press conference at La Raza headquarters.

Perez served as president of the board of CASA, a nonprofit group that helps legal and illegal immigrants find work. CASA members echoed their leader’s message on a march from the St. Regis Hotel, located two blocks from the White House, to La Raza’s building located four blocks from the White House.

"We are not one; we are thousands. If you can count, count us wisely," they chanted in Spanish amid a sea of pre-made placards saying, "We’ll Remember Who Stands with Tom Perez" and "Latino Voters for Perez."

Twelve people in red CASA shirts marched up 16th Street and greeted about 18 men and women in suits at La Raza’s headquarters, whereupon organizers handed seven media outlets a letter signed by 49 Hispanic interest groups.

Angel Aviles, an El Salvadoran construction worker who brought his three-year-old son Diego to the rally, said he was supporting Perez though struggled to give reasons why.

"It’s good; I’m not sure why … I don’t know. It’s the first time I’m here. I came for Luis," he said, pointing to a friend in a CASA shirt.

Sophie, a four-year-old girl in a navy sundress, struggled to support a sign against the breeze. She attended the rally with her mother.

"I guess to support Tom Perez, to show Hispanic people are humans," Sophie’s mother, who did not give her name, told the Washington Free Beacon as the press conference began.

Representatives from the various letter signatories mounted the podium to condemn Republicans for twice delaying Perez’s Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee confirmation vote. Speakers repeatedly referred to Perez as "our champion" and "our friend," adding, "An attack on Tom Perez is an attack on the Latino community."

"Tom Perez is a respected and loved member of the Hispanic community," La Raza president Janet Murguía said. "We are united in outrage. … Make no mistake right now, this nominee is being disrespected and we as the Latino Community are watching very closely."

Murguía repeatedly insisted Perez had "made a good faith effort to answer questions" regarding the reason for the delays—an alleged quid pro quo Perez orchestrated as the Department of Justice’s chief civil rights enforcement officer. He allegedly helped dismiss a $200 million whistleblower lawsuit against St. Paul, Minn., after the city dropped a Supreme Court case that threatened to derail a racial discrimination legal theory Perez supports.

The House Oversight Committee has repeatedly asked Perez for private emails that he used to conduct government business. He has not complied. Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) sent Perez a letter last week requesting the documents.

Murguía dismissed the bipartisan demands for Perez to cooperate with the St. Paul investigation.

"If there’s a member, especially a Democrat, who still wants answers then we can do that later in confirmation—there’s no reason he can’t exit the committee," she said. "There may be good faith concerns [about the confirmation], but we believe, on substance, that one case should not define his entire career."

Murguía said Perez’s nomination is an especially hot topic for Hispanic special interests because Obama did not nominate other minorities to high-ranking positions.

"We are disappointed that President Obama did not nominate more [Hispanics] to the highest positions in his administration," she said. "We just think a cabinet should be as diverse and representative as this country."

The Senate HELP committee will vote on Perez’s nomination on Thursday.