President Obama has tapped Cecilia Muñoz, the White House director of intergovernmental affairs, to succeed Melody Barnes as director of the Domestic Policy Council.
Muñoz has spent her entire career focusing on immigration reform and the rights of immigrants. She was a key figure in the negotiations over a comprehensive immigration bill advocated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and 2007. She won a MacArthur "genius award" for her work on immigration in 2000.
“Over the past three years, Cecilia has been a trusted adviser who has demonstrated sound judgment day in and day out,” Obama said in a statement. “Cecilia has done an extraordinary job working on behalf of middle-class families, and I’m confident she’ll bring the same unwavering dedication to her new position.”
Barnes left the post at the end of the year.
Muñoz’s appointment to the White House’s top domestic policy spot is a signal to Hispanic voters that Obama has not given up on immigration reform, despite the lack of progress in his first term. Obama and other administration officials have consistently expressed frustration at the blockade on earned legalization from congressional Republicans, but that has not appeased those who care about immigration reform the most.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Muñoz said she would try in her new position to fulfill the goals outlined by Obama in a speech last month advocating for the middle class. "That was a very clear vision and approach for making sure the American Dream is accessible to everyone in this country," she told The Journal. "That's going to be my guidepost."
The administration has made other steps that are overtly immigrant-friendly in recent months. Last week, the Homeland Security Department announced a tweak to the green-card application process that makes it easier for some minor children and spouses of U.S. citizens to remain in the country while awaiting legal visas.
Immigration-reform advocates were quick to praise the White House’s announcement. Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, said that Muñoz’s appointment would improve the lives of all Americans and particularly inspire young Latinas. “She’s always been the smartest kid in the class, and now the American people will benefit from the combination [of] her profound dedication to public service and her blistering intellect,” Kelley said in a statement.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that Muñoz “is an outstanding choice to lead the president’s critical domestic policy agenda for strengthening our economy and addressing the civil- and human-rights issues facing our country.”
A Pew Hispanic Center poll released last month found that Obama lost support among Latino voters from 2010 to 2011 but that he still got more of their support than potential Republican opponents when matched head to head.
Fawn Johnson contributed