Cecilia Munoz

Cecilia Munoz

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: New America


* Activist who supports immigration reform that guarantees “a path to citizenship for the current undocumented population”
* Longtime policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza
* Was appointed President Obama as director of intergovernmental affairs in 2009
* Was appointed by President Obama as director of the Domestic Policy Council in 2012

The youngest of four children, Cecilia Muñoz was born in Detroit, Michigan on July 27, 1962, to parents who had immigrated to the United States from La Paz, Bolivia. In 1984 Muñoz graduated from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with degrees in English and Latin American Studies, and she subsequently earned a master’s degree in Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. She then took a job with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago as head of the Legalization Outreach Program for Catholic Charities. Following the 1986 enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act—an amnesty program that allowed some 2.7 million illegal aliens to receive lawful permanent residence (green cards) in the late 1980s and early 1990s—Muñoz operated twelve Catholic Charities field offices throughout metropolitan Chicago and helped more than 5,000 migrants obtain U.S. citizenship.

In 1988, Muñoz became the senior immigration policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). She went on to serve as NCLR’s senior vice president from September 1988 through November 2008.

Muñoz strongly opposed The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193), a federal welfare reform bill that would ultimately lift millions of American welfare recipients out of poverty by moving them into paying jobs where they were able to earn their own way instead of being the wards of U.S. taxpayers. Muñoz’s chief complaint was that the bill made illegal migrants ineligible to continue receiving food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Under Muñoz’s leadership, NCLR advised the Mexican government on how it could most effectively lobby for amnesty on behalf of Mexican illegal aliens residing in the United States. In recognition of her efforts in this regard, Mexico’s Institute for Mexicans Residing Abroad rewarded Muñoz with its Ohtli Prize for her service to that country.

In 2000, Muñoz received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her work with NCLR. Upon receiving the award, she announced that she would use the $500,000 that came with it to help bankroll La Raza’s initiatives.

By Muñoz’s reckoning, America is a nation rife with white racism and bigotry. “The line between anti-immigrant and anti-Latino is pretty thin,” she said in 2000, adding: “The day when my kids can walk down the street and be called American, that’s the goal.” On another occasion, Muñoz told The Detroit News: “It gets old. We’re [Latino immigrants are] tired of being treated as if we don’t belong here.”

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks of September 2001, Muñoz stated that  “there’s no relationship between immigration and terrorism. People who don’t like immigration like to suggest there’s a connection.”

In 2006-2007, Muñoz supported portions of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, particularly a measure that would have created a clear path to citizenship for illegal aliens in the U.S.  In fact, she described opposition to this provision as evidence of a “wave of hate” allegedly sweeping the country. However, Muñoz and La Raza emphasized that they would not ultimately support any bill in its entirety unless it included “a path to citizenship for the current undocumented population; the creation of new legal channels for future immigrant workers; a reduction of family immigration backlogs; and the protection of civil rights and civil liberties.”

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Muñoz served as one of Barack Obama‘s top advisers on immigration issues and Hispanic relations. In January 2009, President Obama appointed her as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Muñoz held that position until 2012, at which point she took over as Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

An investigation by Judicial Watch found that federal funding for the National Council of La Raza surged after Muñoz joined the Obama administration, spiking from $4.1 million in 2009 to $11 million in 2010.

Muñoz played a key role in the development of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shielded hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants who had arrived in the U.S. as children – i.e., “DREAMers” — from deportation. In 2013, Muñoz wrote a piece for the Obama White House to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the program, calling it “a policy that makes our immigration system more representative of our values as a nation.” Arguing that DREAMers deserved a path to citizenship, she added: “Fourteen months ago when DACA was announced by DHS, President Obama said that the DREAMers deserve better than to have to plan their lives in two-year increments; he was absolutely right.” Muñoz also invoked the “hundreds of thousands of ambitious, hardworking young people [who] have been able to emerge from the shadows, no longer living in fear of deportation,” and she called on Congress to enact “commonsense immigration reform.”

Muñoz was one of numerous high-profile guests to celebrate President Obama’s second inauguration at the White House in January 2013. Other notable attendees included: John Legend, Ashley Judd, Nancy Pelosi, Harvey Weinstein, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Valerie Jarrett, Tim Kaine, Rahm Emanuel, Al Sharpton, and John Kerry.

In 2013 as well, Muñoz supervised the drafting of Senate Bill 744—titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act—sweeping immigration-reform legislation which was passed by the U.S. Senate in June of that year. Designed to provide a path-to-citizenship for the millions of illegal aliens residing in the United States, the bill also created two massive slush funds totaling some $150 million which would go to left-wing immigrant-rights groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the National Council of La Raza.

In November 2015, Muñoz participated in a White House summit specifically designed to support nonwhite minority girls. Melissa Harris-Perry and  Loretta Lynch also spoke at the event. Earlier that year, Muñoz had spoken at the White House’s first “Native American Youth Conference.”

Near the conclusion of the Obama presidency, Muñoz alleged that congressional Republicans had prevented the administration from enacting more aggressive immigration-reform legislation. “Unfortunately, we are now in a situation where folks took the heat off of Congress, Congress didn’t do its job,” she lamented. “No one can answer the question of whether or not, if we had kept the heat on the House, we would have gotten there.” She also complained that the “advocacy community” had been content to have Obama “take executive action” instead.

But in a January 2017 interview with NBC Latino, Muñoz stated that the Obama administration, on balance, “has been extraordinarily consequential for the Latino community.” “[I]t’s not just that we lifted the economy for everybody,” she claimed, “it’s that we were trying to be deliberate about making more progress in the communities that needed it the most, and it worked.” “A lot of the progress we’ve made,” continued Muñoz, “if you get past the layer of ideology in this town, you find Democrats and Republicans alike who see and agree with the wisdom of those policies and making similar efforts.”

Upon leaving the Obama administration, Muñoz in February 2017 joined New America as a senior advisor and Vice President of Policy and Technology. InfluenceWatch.org describes New America as “a left-of-center think tank” that “focuses on a range of public policy issues, including national security studies, technology, asset building, health, gender, energy, education, and the economy.” “We’re going to have to make sure that we’re putting these technological tools in the hands of the institutions that we count on to make sure that we are just society and that we are promoting equality,” Muñoz said of her new work.

In June 2017 Muñoz became a trustee of the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation, which maintains an endowment of roughly $4.5 billion and promotes an array of leftwing agendas.

In January 2018, Muñoz wrote an op-ed for Politico denouncing President Trump’s opposition to chain migration: “We should call the Trump administration’s efforts to curtail legal immigration by attacking family immigration exactly what they are: an attempt to torpedo an engine of economic growth and prosperity, driven by a not-so-thinly-veiled racial agenda masquerading as an economic one. Don’t fall for it.”

In May 2018, Muñoz defended the Obama administration’s record on separating illegal migrant children from their parents at the U.S. southern border, while depicting the Trump administration as among “the most brutal regimes in the world’s history”:

“No. The Obama administration … did not separate children from their parents. This is a new decision, a policy decision, made by the attorney general which puts us in league with the most brutal regimes in the world’s history. These — in many cases, these are people who are fleeing because of violence in their home country. The responsibility of the United States under the law is to determine who has a well-founded fear, who might qualify for political asylum. That’s a hard job to do to sort out folks who might be economic migrants from folks who might be in danger. But our job is to make sure that we protect people who are in danger. What this [Trump] administration has chosen to do instead is to terrorize these families in the hope that that terror will deter them from coming in the first place.”

In an interview with GQ magazine the following month, Muñoz took the opportunity to again condemn the Trump administration:

“The people in the room wrestling with the policy choices in the Obama administration cared a lot about what happened to these kids and these families, and we worked mightily to meet our obligations under the law in the most humane way possible…. Contrast that with the folks making the decisions now who famously don’t like immigrants, who basically have referred to them as recently these week as infesting the United States, some of whom have known ties to organizations associated with white supremacy, and the policy reflects that perspective.”

In July 2019, Muñoz and former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough co-authored a New York Times op-ed titled “Cruelty Won’t Stop the Crisis at the Border.” “President Trump seems to think that holding children and families in federal government custody without beds, soap, toothbrushes or even adequate food might stem migration from Central America,” they wrote, adding: “The suggestion that subjecting migrants to appalling conditions might serve as a deterrent is not just cruel; it conveys a grave misunderstanding of the forces that drive people to undertake this dangerous journey and of what it will take to manage the number of people arriving at the border.” In that same piece, Muñoz and McDonough wrote:

“The first principle for those who are governing and seek to govern must be to apply the law with humanity and compassion. This means honoring the humanitarian claims of those who qualify for them and dealing humanely with those who do not. Those seeking asylum deserve a full and fair opportunity to make their case, preferably with legal assistance, and receive a timely answer. This also means increasing resources for immigration judges, ramping up case management programs that are both less expensive and more effective than detention in ensuring that migrants appear at their hearings, and increasing the resources available for legal representation.”

In September 2019, Muñoz became a trustee of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In April 2020, Muñoz released More than Ready: Be Strong and Be You … and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise. In the book, Muñoz condemned the “over the top and offensive” speech that future president Donald Trump had used in 2015 when “he famously launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants ‘rapists’” — an egregious misrepresentation of what Trump had actually said. Muñoz also stated that Trump’s “harmful, over the top words weren’t just offensive on their face; they gave legitimacy to similar hostile and racist feelings held by others, and, as history shows us, often leads to real outcomes that harm actual people.”

In November 2020, Muñoz joined President-elect Joe Biden’s White House transition team.

In February 2021, Muñoz became a trustee of the Joyce Foundation.

In Augiust 2021, Muñoz became a board member of AdHocteam.us, a digital services company designed to serve the needs of the federal government.

In December 2021, Muñoz became board chair of the Kresge Foundation.

In April 2022, Muñoz became a board member of Headspace, an organization whose stated mission is to “make mental health support accessible to everyone, no matter their background or experience.”

In June 2022, Muñoz was named co-chair of the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board, where she would assist Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Additional Information

At various times, Muñoz has served as a board member of Casa de Maryland; board chair of the Center for Community Change; a board member of George Soros’s Open Society Institute; and a board member of the Atlantic Philanthropies.

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