WASHINGTON – Thomas Perez, a Dominican-American was who was a top Justice Department official, was nominated by President Barack Obama to become the next secretary of labor.
Obama called Perez, 51, a consensus builder whose "story reminds us of this country's promise."
“Thomas Perez reminds us if you’re willing to work hard you can find success in America,” said Obama in a ceremony that included prominent Latino leaders from around the United States.
The president depicted Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants, as a seasoned public servant who has “worked in federal, state and local governments.” He said that Perez understands that an economic recovery requires improving conditions and opportunities for the middle class.
Perez thanked the president in Spanish and English.
“Muchisimas gracias Señor Presidente,” Perez said, as Obama looked on, standing to the nominee’s left.
“Over my career I’ve learned that true progress is possible if you can keep an open mind and listen to all sides,” Perez, 51, said.
He vowed to work on “making progress for all working families.” He also said he looked forward to speaking to senators from both parties in coming weeks about his plans for managing labor and economic issues in the nation.
“Our nation still faces critical economic challenges,” Perez said.
Perez has headed the Justice Department's Civil Rights Divisions since 2009, playing a leading role in the agency's decision to challenge voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina.
He also has broad support from labor and from the Latino community, although he also has Republican congressional critics who can be expected to oppose his confirmation.
If confirmed, Perez would be one of the highest ranking Hispanics in the government.
“If he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he would be the first Dominican-American ever to be appointed to a cabinet-level position in U.S. history,” said Cid Wilson, a leader in the Dominican community. “It's a proud day for Latinos around the country for Tom Perez to be nominated by President Obama and a euphorically-exciting day for nearly two million Dominican Americans living around the U.S.”
With his nomination, Obama now has four Cabinet-level slots to fill -- departments of Commerce and Transportation, the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Trade Representative.
Some Latino groups that have been pushing for Latino representation in the high ranks of the Obama administration lauded the nomination.
“Mr. Perez embodies the wealth of talent and expertise that exists within the nation’s Latino community today, “ said the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in a statement. “We look forward to working with the President to support Mr. Perez’s nomination and to identify other Latino voices for cabinet positions that will build on the legacy of both Secretaries [Ken] Salazar and [Hilda] Solis.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus hailed the announcement, saying is the perfect choice for the job.
"Mr. Perez has built a distinguished career in public service ensuring that Americans’ most basic rights are respected and defended," California Congressman Xavier Becerra. "As Labor Secretary, he will be an intelligent, passionate and determined fighter for American workers and their families.”
But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary committee, called Perez divisive. assailed the choice of Perez as labor secretary.
"Mr. Perez has had a controversial tenure at the Department of Justice where he has demonstrated a fundamentally political approach to the law,” Sessions said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.