Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama's Civil Rights Appointment

It's hard to be upset at Obama given what he's up against and what he's done so far to restore the rule of law to this beleaguered country, but this was a bit disappointing.

The LA Times reports -- and the NY Times editorial page rues -- the fact that Obama bypassed Thomas Saenz, a prominent civil rights lawyer and the counsel to the Mayor of Los Angeles, for an appointment to the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice.

Saenz has been an important voice in the effort to make the rights of immigrants an important civil rights issue -- a frame for immigration policy that is sorely in need of development. In our policy debates, it is frustrating that immigration policy is so often discussed in terms of "homeland security" or law enforcement or border control or lots of other things that seem to involve weaponry. What's lost in all that discussion is the fact that immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, have basic human needs that don't always get met -- that is, immigration is a longstanding and pressing civil rights issue.

Saenz was trying to address those problems. In his legal career, he has led the effort to protect immigrants from unwarranted police raids, and he's worked on trying to secure rights to social services for immigrant populations. But because of these efforts, he's been labeled as an extremist. Google his name and see all the hysterical right wing propaganda that bubbles up.

Obviously, we don't know for sure, but that right wing hysteria is probably what kept Obama from naming Saenz to this post. But Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) noted the irony for us: “In what other position do you find that your life experience, your educational knowledge and commitment to an issue actually hurts you?”

Don't get me wrong -- it's all an improvement over the past 8 nightmarish years. Still, I sense that there will be more disappointments like these along the way.


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