Latino leaders took President Barack Obama to task over the lack of diversity in his cabinet in a closed-door “listening session” this week, just before the president left for bilateral meetings in Mexico and Costa Rica.
Leaders from the nation’s top 10 Latino civic groups insisted that the president must push for immigration reform, and in particular a “non-negotiable” opportunity for the nation’s millions of undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship.
The president did not hesitate, telling these leaders that — even though it doesn’t include all he wants —if the current bill introduced in the Senate by the “Gang of Eight” were to hit his desk, he’d sign it immediately.
“It was all in support of the Gang of Eight proposal and mobilizing our base,” said Hector Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 34 organizations. “Our top priority is citizenship — in the past there were negotiations on the path to legalization without citizenship — that’s non-negotiable this time.”
Sanchez labeled the meeting was “positive” and a “strategic meeting.”
As the current immigration reform plan makes its way through Congress, organizations like Sanchez’s will hold 60 to 100 town hall meetings to put “intense pressure to get fair immigration reform.”
But having a direct one-on-one with the president, it couldn’t go without notice that some have questioned whether Obama has lived up to his pledge to maintain a highly diverse second-term cabinet.
Latino leaders, represented by Sanchez, had publicly put pressure on the administration to increase Latinos in the cabinet, giving the president a list of 19 names to choose from for various slots. The White House had told Sanchez that the administration pledged to have two Latino members of the cabinet
Yet there are no Latinos currently represented in top posts — the void will be filled if Thomas Perez, current Labor Secretary nominee, is confirmed. But he has faced intense scrutiny from Republicans for his tenure heading up the civil rights division at the Justice Department. His confirmation vote is scheduled for next week.
Sanchez brought up the cabinet diversity issue with the president in the private meeting. He also mentioned his “disappointment” of the record number of immigrant deportations under Obama’s leadership.
“I put it on the table, diplomatically,” Sanchez said, noting it was the first time Obama meet with national Latino leaders in five years.
So how did the president react?
“There was no response from Obama,” Sanchez said.
As a result of the lack of Hispanic representation, Sanchez and other Latino leaders launched the website, latinoappointments.org, to keep the spotlight on the lack of representation at all levels of federal government.
“Over 17 percent of the population is Latino,” said Max Sevilla, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs for National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “We are lacking true diversity and appropriate Latino representation even in junior and mid level positions that are the pipeline to future leadership.”