… and promises to keep

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Cecilia Muñoz

Some see it as more pandering to Latino voters by President Obama; others as a boon to immigration reform. Either way, last month’s appointment of longtime reform advocate Cecilia Muñoz as the White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council is a reality.

The soon-to-be-former head of intergovernmental affairs made a name for herself among Latinos as an immigration advocate, and became a superstar in that arena as senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. As Director of Domestic Policy, she’ll draw on both her pre-government career and her work on immigration reform to create and helm domestic policy issues and to create education and social programs. 

Referring to Muñoz in a press release as someone who can “fix the broken immigration system,” Obama lauded the director’s “extraordinary job working on behalf of middle class families … I’m confident she’ll bring the same unwavering dedication to her new position.”

She’ll also bring an agenda built around policy change and a solid fan base, some of which uses sports metaphors to praise her. “I can say for certain that the White House hit a triple today in its selection of Cecilia as the new head of the Domestic Policy Council,” Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress told the New York Times following Muñoz’s appointment. “She’s a good fit.”

Her detractors like to point out that Muñoz fell short in pushing immigration reform through Congress, and that the Obama administration deported a record number of undocumented immigrants in 2011. But much of the future criticism that will be leveled at Muñoz will no doubt have to do with her earlier work outside the government. Her efforts in the immigration advocacy community and at La Raza found her trying to untangle the relationship between reformists and the White House—and mostly failing; a fact that she’ll likely be reminded of by wonks and wags and immigration reform activists who think her ascendancy should speed up the process of passing measures that will regularize unauthorized migrants. (It won’t, if the several attempts to pass the DREAM Act are any indication, and not through any fault of Muñoz’s.)

She’ll be reminded, no doubt, of having defended the Obama administration’s 2011 deportation increases, and the recent deportation decisions that link migrants with threats to national security — actions which Muñoz helped to create. And it’s unlikely that anyone will give Muñoz props for treading carefully with the immigrant community, with whom she stopped short of making promises she couldn’t truly keep in a fragile political environment.

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