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Obama to nominate Tom Perez as next US labor secretary

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday will nominate Tom Perez, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, as his next labor secretary, a White House official said.

Perez, a Harvard-educated civil rights attorney whose nomination was championed by Hispanic groups, would replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January.

Obama has been criticized for a lack of diversity in his Cabinet choices so far, particularly by Latinos, who are an influential voting bloc and have pushed for more representation in government.

If confirmed by the Senate, Perez, the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republican, will take on a prominent role in the Cabinet as Obama seeks to raise the minimum wage and advance immigration reform, two key pledges he made at the beginning of his second term.

The White House described Perez as a pragmatist who led the Justice Department in settling three major cases on behalf of families targeted by unfair mortgage lending practices, and who stepped up enforcement of human trafficking laws.

But Perez is expected to face tough scrutiny from Republicans. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already voiced concerns.

An internal government investigation released last week found the Justice Department office that enforces voting laws — part of the civil rights division overseen by Perez — has been beset by political infighting.

The report, by the Justice Department's Inspector General, was critical of Perez for what it called an incomplete statement he gave in 2010 about a case of alleged voter intimidation.

Perez began his career as a civil rights prosecutor at the Justice Department, and later was head of the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services.

He spent time working as a special counsel to the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy on civil rights issues.

Perez served in local government in the Washington suburb of Montgomery County, Maryland. Later, he was labor secretary in Maryland's state government, where he worked on reforms for state lending and foreclosure rules.

His wife, Ann Marie Staudenmaier, is a lawyer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

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In this May 10, 2012 file photo, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, left, joined by Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Roy Austin, announces a federal civil lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio during a news conference in Phoenix. The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama will nominate Perez to head the Labor Department. (AP)

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