WASHINGTON -- Sounding and looking like a motivational speaker, Labor Secretary Tom Perez argued before a largely Hispanic crowd Wednesday that the president is getting it right by taking more time to act on immigration.
Perez abandoned the podium and walked up and down the stage as he passionately spoke about his allegiance to President Barack Obama and his boss’ commitment to fixing immigration.
“As he has done with minimum wage over time, he will not hesitate to take executive action,” Perez said of Obama.
“I’m confident, because I’ve worked for this guy a while, that on immigration, we’re going to get it right on the administration side,” Perez said.
Although a range of issues have been highlighted at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s conference, immigration inaction by Republicans in Congress followed by the president’s delay of executive action have hung over the annual meeting. Obama speaks Thursday and he’s expected to address immigration. At least one immigration group plans a protest.
Perez lightly touched on the disappointment immigrant and Latino advocates have expressed about the executive action delay, saying patience is a luxury that many don't have.
He told the the story of Obama meeting with a group of women after a job training event, outside the spotlight of the media, and was asked by them what is the single most thing he hoped to accomplish. Perez said Obama answered immigration reform.
“Because he's met so many people across this country who want opportunity, for whom opportunity continues to be elusive,” said Perez.
Perez is considered a potential replacement for retiring Attorney General Eric Holder, although his is one of several names being floated. Before becoming Labor Secretary he headed up the Department of Justice’s civil rights division under Holder and also worked as deputy assistant attorney general for the civil rights office under former attorney general Janet Reno.
But Perez declined to talk about his prospects for the job to reporters after his speech.
“My focus is on the DOL,” he said.
However, Califorinia Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra, the highest ranking Hispanic in the House, was willing to go further, saying he’d like to see Perez replace Holder. “It sounds really good, Attorney General Perez.”
Though Perez was warmly received, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, won several spurts of applause with his comments, including when he said about Obama, “I think he should have acted before the election.”
Gutierrez predicted that some time before Christmas some 5 million workers illegally here “will be afforded an opportunity to come out of the shadows into the light of day. And everybody in this room has to get ready to help them.”
GOP strategist Ana Navarro, a panelist with Gutierrez, said that she is "pushing" people in her party, acknowledging the disappointment over inaction on the issue.
"Why is it always the Latinos that have to wait," Navarro said.