McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — As President-elect Joe Biden announces cabinet appointments and fills key positions, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are strongly urging that more Mexican-Americans and Hispanics from backgrounds other than Cuban be considered for these important roles in the new administration.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday sent a letter to Biden suggesting that both California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez are “immensely qualified” and should be considered as prime candidates to fill the position of U.S. Attorney General.
The letter, signed by 32 members of Congress, touts Becerra as “the son of immigrants from Mexico and the first in his family to attend college.”
And it says that Perez, who has been chairman of the Democratic National Committee and is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, “has secured dozens of victories against the Trump Justice Department.”
On Nov. 29, another 32 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent Biden a letter urging that he consider New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. That letter also praised Biden for his nomination of Cuban-American Alejandro Mayorkas as “the first Latino and first immigrant to be nominated for the position of Secretary of Homeland Security reflects your commitment to these efforts.”
It said Mayorkas’ nomination to head the nation’s largest law enforcement agency “is a good start in ensuring that Latinos, the largest minority group in the United States, are more fairly represented in our nation’s government.” But the letter went on to explain the “diversity of the Latino population” which they said “in itself is incredibly varied, with Mexican-Americans making up 62.3 percent of the total Latino population.”
Some political analysts say what was subtly understated in the letter to the incoming president of the United States is that Cuban-Americans are far different from Mexican-Americans and that Hispanics, as a whole, should not be considered as just one group.
Natasha Altema McNeely, a political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley told Border Report that it’s unfortunate that in 2020, grumbling by such high-level lawmakers in Washington is still necessary to point out the various cultures and backgrounds that comprise the Latino communities in the United States.
“Although these reminders shouldn’t have to happen, it’s good that they still are being offered because unfortunately otherwise we’ll continue to see these assumptions made,” Altema McNeely said.
“I’ve seen this underlying concern, especially in the case of Mayorkas’ appointment, for some within the Hispanic community there’s this concern regarding Cuban-Americans that’s great,” she said. “If confirmed, we’ll see what he does as DHS secretary, but that’s not the only ethnic group within the Hispanic community who could offer very good and strong potential cabinet appointees, as well.”
Biden on Nov. 23 nominated Mayorkas, a former DHS deputy secretary in the Obama administration, to head the agency. Mayorkas is a Cuban-born former federal prosecutor and, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the first Hispanic to lead the agency.
Lujan Grisham, who is one of Biden’s transition team co-chairs, said on Monday that she has not formally been approached for the HHS position. During a Facebook live event, she acknowledged HHS is “the cabinet post I’ve been identified for by advocates,” which she said “is a testament to being one of the only governors in a long time who has experience in public health, health care reform and long-term care in the country.”
She added: “That is a valuable thing for the Biden team to look at.”
She said “no one has talked to me specifically about any job.” However, on Wednesday afternoon, the Hill reported citing sources that Lujan Grisham had turned down an offer by Biden to head the Interior Department.
In the Nov. 29 letter by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, which was signed by several border lawmakers from California to Texas, Lujan Grisham was praised as an “extraordinary leader” and the first Democratic Hispanic woman to be elected as a governor in U.S. history. As former state secretary of health and later a member of Congress, she “has worked tirelessly to improve health care access and quality for New Mexicans and all Americans,” they wrote.
They touted that one of her first acts as governor was to increase health care providers to rural parts of the state, and reducing prescription drug costs. New Mexico also is one of the only states that offers all COVID-19 testing free for all residents.
“She has the vision and drive to see through large projects and effectively lead large organizations; and brings the necessary skills to serve our country as Secretary of Health and Human Services,” they wrote.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from South Texas, was among Hispanic Caucus members to sign both letters. And he told Border Report that he believed Lujan Grisham was among those “qualified” Hispanic candidates that Biden should seriously tap. Others include: U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat also from South Texas, who supported Biden’s candidacy dating back to the summer of 2019; and U.S. Rep. Raúl Ruiz, a Democrat from California.
Last December, Vela brought Jill Biden, who will soon be first lady, to South Texas and to the migrant refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, where thousands of asylum-seekers were living under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.
“We have a large pool of Latino talent in this country that is capable of filling any top cabinet or government position all the way to the presidency. At this point missed opportunity would be a failure of this administration,” Gonzalez told Border Report.
We have a large pool of Latino talent in this country that is capable of filling any top cabinet or government position all the way to the presidency.”US. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas
On Friday, Gonzalez issued a statement urging that Biden appoint “five Latinos” to his cabinet.
“This last election showed growing concerns in Latino communities, specifically, Mexican Americans in South Texas and across our nation, with our Democratic Party. There is a clear anxiousness to see an America that represents them. It is incumbent upon the incoming Biden-Harris administration to nominate a cabinet that represents the American people and the more than 60.6 million Latinos in the United States, out of which 62% are from Mexican-American communities like mine. We have been amongst the most loyal and qualified patriots for generations and are now laser focused in watching America’s new cabinet unfold,” Gonzalez said.
The Hispanic Caucus letters come as other minority groups also are advocating that their members be considered for key roles in the Biden administration.
Last week, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, a top Black lawmaker who played a critical role in Biden’s victory in the Democratic presidential primary, expressed disappointment over the lack of African-Americans named to prominent positions to date.
Twenty members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also wrote to Biden urging the president-elect include in his cabinet Asian American and Pacific Islanders, which they said it is the fastest growing racial group in the country.
Said Altema McNeely: “These types of reminders from the members of the Hispanic Caucus but also these groups on behalf of Blacks, these letters and forms of communication are reminding them that these groups matter and that the perspectives within these groups vary.”