Illegal immigrants have always had a friend in Thomas Perez, President Obama’s nominee for labor secretary.
As a member of the Montgomery County council in Maryland, he advocated for day-laborer sites and pushed for IDs distributed by Mexico and Guatemala to count as proof of identity, even though allowing such IDs could give illegal immigrants easier access to government-funded services.
In 2004, Perez went before the Maryland state legislature to testify against several immigration-enforcement bills, including one that would codify the state’s practice of blocking undocumented workers from acquiring driver’s licenses, and another that would require people to prove their citizenship before registering to vote, according to the Washington Post. He also opposed efforts to study how illegal immigrants are a burden on the state budget.
A day-laborer site promoted by Perez led to a wave of controversy in his community. While on the county council, he moved to open a taxpayer-funded center whose aim was to attract day laborers. The immigration status of the day laborers wasn’t a secret. CASA de Maryland, the organization that runs the center in Gaithersburg, tells National Review that it does not check on the legal status of day laborers because it is not an employer.
And even when the public debate heated up, Perez stood his ground. “I think Gaithersburg is fundamentally a progressive community just like the rest of the county,” Perez said, according to the Post. “I’m confident in the end the question will be where to locate it, not whether to locate it.”
Chuck Floyd, a Republican involved in opposing the site, says attempts were made to discuss screening the day laborers’ legal status, but Perez wanted none of it. “We’ve talked to him and others about this on numerous occasions,” Floyd says. “They listened with deaf ears.” Brad Botwin, executive director of Help Save Maryland, was also involved in the opposition to the site; speaking of Perez, he says, “He was not interested in listening to us.” Perez “wasn’t very approachable,” he adds, “and he’s extremely argumentative.”
The Minutemen, a group dedicated to preventing illegal immigration, became involved, reportedly going to day-laborer sites and snapping photos of the laborers and those who sought to hire them, according to the Post. In turn, CASA de Maryland executive director Gustavo Torres said that “if they [the Minutemen] keep harassing our community, we are going to demonstrate in front of their houses and in front of their workplaces to let the neighborhood know how anti-immigrant they are,” the Post reported. “It’s going to be a shame for their family.”
Torres later apologized for those comments, but Perez’s critics says the president’s nominee is part of a larger left-leaning movement in Maryland that includes Torres’s organization. Their aim is to push back against critics of immigration reform and open up the state for illegal immigrants.
Perez, too, had no use for the Minutemen. “The good news is that these Minutemen are yet another in the long line of radical fringe groups that will die of their own weight in Montgomery County because they don’t speak for Montgomery County,” the Post quoted Perez as saying.“They ought to get on the Red Line, get off at Union Station, walk to Capitol Hill, and engage in a dialogue about immigration reform. Their beef is with people in Congress.”
Perez’s campaign for the acceptance of matricula consular IDs, special IDs provided by Mexico and Guatemala, was another contentious episode. In 2003 he sponsored a county bill aimed at giving immigrants access to banks, but it would have had wider application, making “consular cards identification enough for holders to receive county services,” the Maryland Daily Record reported.
This long history of advocacy for illegal immigrants has caught the interest of Republicans, who are planning to bring up these stories during the confirmation process. Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), for example, blasted Perez in a statement on Monday, saying Perez’s positions on illegal immigration are “far outside the mainstream.”
Perez has yet to become the kind of Republican target that previous Obama nominees have been, but GOP operatives say the president’s labor pick could be in trouble. “The top priority of the secretary of labor should be to create jobs and higher wages for American workers,” Sessions said. “But Mr. Perez has aggressively sought ways to allow the hiring of more illegal workers.”