Civil Rights Leaders Salute Thomas Perez as Labor Secretary

So far, Perez is the only Latino in the president's second term cabinet.

Posted: 03/18/2013 02:08 PM EDT

President Obama on Monday nominated Thomas Perez, who currently heads the Justice Department's civil rights division, to serve as his next secretary of labor.

If civil rights leaders are displeased that an African-American hasn't been named for yet another cabinet position, they're hiding it. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights issued a statement hailing the pick and Perez, who has served as labor secretary for the state of Maryland, as a "champion of voting rights, disability rights and educational equity."

Obama praised Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants who worked as a garbage collector and in a warehouse to pay for college, as an example of how hard work makes American dreams come true.

"[His] story reminds us of this country's promise, that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, what your last name is, you can make it if you try."

Labor groups also support the nomination. And while Perez will likely be easily confirmed, he will be just as likely have to answer some tough questions about his tenure at the Justice Department. Just last week, the agency's inspector general issued a scathing report about the division's voting rights unit that said it suffers from "deep ideological polarization" among employees and a "disappointing lack of professionalism."

Sen. Jeff Sessions got the ball rolling in a statement blasting the nomination.

"The top priority of the secretary of labor should be to create jobs and higher wages for American workers," Sessions said. "But Mr. Perez has aggressively sought ways to allow the hiring of more illegal workers. Mr. Perez has also had a controversial tenure at the Department of Justice where he has demonstrated a fundamentally political approach to the law."

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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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