Castro has chaired the commission since his confirmation in March 2011, but he said that given his long history of civil-rights work and his Hispanic heritage, he’s been training for this position his “whole life.” He has led the panel to examine issues that, while still within its congressional mandate, are outside its traditional purview, including sex trafficking and bullying based on sexual orientation. In an interview, he expressed a hope that the commission will “push the envelope” under his leadership, fulfilling its mandate but calling attention to issues that have not been its focus.
In spite of the strides the United States has made over the past several decades, Castro said, “discrimination is alive and well” in this country. He sees the commission as uniquely suited to addressing its various forms. The chairman said that although the commission could occupy itself indefinitely with issues that now fall within its mandate, he ultimately would like to see that mandate broadened.
Castro, 49, earned a B.A. in political science from DePaul University in 1985 and a J.D. from the University of Michigan in 1988, then practiced law until 2007, aside from a brief stint at the legal-database company Juritas.com. He also worked on a House campaign during the 2000 election cycle. He served as vice president of external affairs at Aetna from 2007 until 2009, when he founded a strategic-consulting firm, Castro Synergies.
A proud Chicagoan, Castro splits his time between Washington and Illinois, where he has served since December 2009 as chairman of the Illinois Human Rights Commission. While his state and federal roles are distinct from one another—the state commission addresses individual cases of discrimination, while the federal one deals with systemic issues—he said that the work he does in each post informs the other.
The son and grandson of immigrants from Mexico, Castro was the first in his family to attend high school, and he is a product of both Head Start and affirmative action. Castro speaks often of the American Dream, and says he is concerned that many Americans are being deprived of access to that dream.