LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 25: Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz speaks during the Nevada Women Vote 2012 Summit on August 25, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event focused on rallying support for President Obama's re-election. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)2012 Getty Images
The highest ranking Hispanic in the Obama administration said that Latinos would take a major step backward if the President is not re-elected.
Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s chief domestic policy advisor, said a Romney administration would have Arizona’s controversial immigration law as a model for the nation, and imperil programs that provide a helping hand to many Latinos.
Latinos stand to gain more from the President’s healthcare reform than any other group
- Cecilia Muñoz
“Head Start, Pell Grants, college loans, Medicare, affordable healthcare” all in jeopardy of being scaled back or worse under a Romney administration, said Muñoz in a Democratic National
Convention office at the Time Warner arena, the nerve center of this week’s convention.
Republicans, and the Romney campaign, have said that the Democrats and Obama administration support the kind of Big Brother government that fosters dependency.
“I disagree with that” characterization, Muñoz rebutted evenly.
President Obama’s policy, and programs backed by the Democratic party, she said, “are about the middle class” and growing the economy from the bottom or middle out.
“And it’s important to do it in a way that benefits everybody,” she said.
The GOP, she says, seeks to cut taxes on the top.
That vision, she said, is markedly different from “what kind of vision they’re offering.”
It is a recurrent theme this week – known in political circles as a “talking point” – and is likely to become more persistent until the election on Nov. 6.
“The President’s grandfather went to school on a G.I. bill,” she said. The President and First Lady Michelle Obama, she said, “know what it was like” to struggle to make it through college and the early years.
“Latinos (for instance) stand to gain more from the President’s healthcare reform than any other group,” she said.
Muñoz says she is confident the President will get a majority of Latino voters. She dismisses the talk about how Latinos are disillusioned with the President because of what they see as his lukewarm efforts to push for comprehensive immigration reform. She also plays down the criticism over how more people than ever have been deported under the Obama administration.
“Congress allocates the resources for deportation,” she said, “and the Executive Office has to spend it.”
She argues that immigration enforcement is now better focused, more on criminals and moving away from low-priority cases such as undocumented immigrants who were brought as minors, and who recently were given a reprieve from deportation under a new policy by Obama called “deferred action.”
She defends, still, Secure Communities, a controversial program through which local law enforcement officials cross-check information about people they’ve arrested and detained against a federal database. Oftentimes, people found to be here illegally are turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Critics of Secure Communities, and many other enforcement programs, complain that they often cast too wide a web that catches and deports non-criminals who are here on immigration violations.
Last year, some Latino rights advocates angrily denounced Muñoz’s defense of Obama’s enforcement approach.
Some called her a “vendida,” or “turncoat,” for defending a highly controversial enforcement approach and moving farther away from her days as one of the nation’s most high-profile and respected immigration advocates.
Cid Wilson, a Latino rights leader who sits on the boards of various national rights organizations, said he feels Muñoz got unfairly criticized.
“She’s a champion for immigrants, and I’m sure she’s fighting within the administration, while trying to do what she get within the confines of a strict government structure,” he said. “People who don’t understand government or Washington don’t really understand what she has to deal with.”
Some leaders who know Muñoz have said she does push behind the scenes for immigration policies and programs that will help undocumented immigrants.
“The DHS (Dept. of Homeland Security) has lifted the burden off these young people,” she said, referring to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors. “It’s happened under this administration, they’re being spared [temporarily] from removal.”
She balked at the steady stream of primetime Latino speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week.
“The [Latino and other minority] faces are important,” she said, “but the parties’ policies really matter.”
Republicans say the lineup of U.S. senators, senatorial candides, governors and other high-profile Latino political leaders was a reflection of the support the party gives to Latinos who aspire to higher office.
Democrats, they say, take Latinos for granted.
Many Democrats have, in turn, criticized Republicans for having a largely white delegate presence that stood in stark contrast to the diversity promoted onstage during primetime.
“We have Julian Castro, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, Ken Salazar,” Muñoz said. “It is important to have strong, visible leadership in both parties. But what are the policies of the party, and what results will they create in people’s lives?”
She suggested she doesn’t comprehend how some of the Latino GOP headliners could present themselves as representatives of Latinos and embrace the GOP platform, which takes a hard line on immigration and social programs many Latinos support.
Is she calling them a sell-out?
“No,” she said. “But I would like to hear how they can say they represent Latinos and support that party platform.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente