20 Years after Fighting Barbara Jordan's Reforms, Cecilia Munoz Writes Script for Obama Executive Action

By Jerry Kammer on August 4, 2014

In her position as director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, Cecilia Munoz is a key figure in the planning for President Obama to decree major changes in U.S. immigration policy that could benefit millions of illegal immigrants.

As the Associated Press noted last week, Munoz, along with other top officials in the Obama administration, is "working to chart a plan on executive actions Obama could take, hosting frequent meetings with interest groups."

Cecilia Munoz (left) Pictured
with DHS Sec. Janet Napolitano (right)

Those meetings come two decades after Munoz was the top immigration lobbyist and spokesperson for one of those very interest groups, the National Council of La Raza. In that role she challenged and helped undermine an immigration plan developed by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. The commission was led by Barbara Jordan, a civil rights icon and former member of Congress, whose plan sought to check illegal immigrants by preventing them from finding work.

A story published 20 year ago today in Newsday quoted Munoz as saying of Jordan's idea, "For Latinos, it's worse than Big Brotherism." Munoz, the daughter of Bolivian immigrants, said she opposed the plan because she was convinced would lead to discrimination against Latinos.

Jordan proposed a computerized registry that would be used to verify that workers were authorized to work in the United States. Her goal was to plug loopholes in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which provided amnesty to illegal immigrants as part of a compromise that also called for sanctions against employers who knowingly hired unauthorized workers.

But while the amnesty proceeded, employer sanctions became a farce because a counterfeit document industry flourished to enable workers to appear to be authorized.

Those loopholes were no accident. They were a triumph of Munoz's lobbying. As journalist Roberto Suro would note in a 1999 book, "Influential groups like the National Council of La Raza listed opposition to employer sanctions as the top item on the Latino civil rights agenda for many years and denounced as an expression of prejudice virtually every proposal to restrict the flow."

Funding from liberal foundations was central to the effort. Suro noted that the Ford Foundation had "granted many millions of dollars to organizations that had fought employer sanctions at every turn, such as the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund."

In 2000 Munoz's activism was honored by the MacArthur Foundation which provided her with a $500,000 "genius grant." The foundation said Munoz had "successfully built and led influential coalitions around such issues as the legalization of undocumented aliens, family-based immigration rights, workplace and farm workers' rights, and access to welfare benefits and education."

The National Council of La Raza. the American Civil Liberties Union, and foundations like Ford, MacArthur, and Carnegie are part of the strange-bedfellows, left-right coalition that has long sought to unravel enforcement of immigration laws and marginalize those who oppose them as anti-immigrant and even racist. Its members on the right include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Now the coalition has one of its most forceful former members, Cecilia Munoz, sitting at the White House and advising the president. Moreover, the concerns of employers who want a large supply of low-wage labor are well represented. As noted in last week's Associated Press story on the planning for executive action, "the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it is actively working to determine whether there are steps Obama could take by executive action that could help the business community."

In September 1994, the Jordan Commission published "U.S. Immigration Policy: Restoring Credibility", a set of recommendations for Congress on controlling illegal immigration. The report's introduction was an implicit repudiation of those who resisted enforcement of immigration laws and attacked those who favored enforcement. It wrote:

The Commission decries hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of the country. At the same time, we disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest. ... The credibility of immigration policy can be measured by a simple yardstick: people who should get in do get in; people who should not get in are kept out; and people who are judged deportable are required to leave.


Read pt. 2: "Barbara Jordan Made 1994 a High-Water Mark in the Effort to Stop Illegal Immigration"