Holder says civil rights ‘under renewed threat’

In an address to the National Council of La Raza convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Hispanic advocacy group that the gains of the Civil Rights era were coming “under renewed threat,” and touted the administration’s efforts in protecting the rights of minority groups and immigrants.

“Many of you know this firsthand – and have felt the impact of division, and even discrimination, in your own lives,” said Holder in his address, according to prepared remarks released by the Justice Department.”

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The attorney general pledged that the civil rights advocacy group would “never have a more committed partner than the United States Department of Justice” and touted the administration’s record on those issues. 

In particular, Holder highlighted the Supreme Court’s ruling last week striking down much of Arizona’s law targeting illegal immigration. 

In a 5-3 ruling, the court rejected most provisions of the law, but let stand a key measure allowing police to check the legal status of those stopped on suspicion of committing unrelated offenses. 

Holder said with the decision, the justices were “confirming the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate with regard to immigration issues.”

But Holder, expressed concerns over the provision left standing. “We’ll work to ensure – as the Court affirmed – that such laws cannot be seen as a license to engage in racial profiling.  And we’ll continue to enforce federal prohibitions against racial and ethnic discrimination, in order – as President Obama has promised – to “uphold our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said.

The attorney general also touted the administration’s decision to halt the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, a move popular within the Hispanic community, calling it “a significant – and long-overdue – improvement to our nation’s immigration policy.”

Holder said the next step was for lawmakers to push through more comprehensive immigration reform and he said the administration would “keep working with Congressional leaders – from both parties – to advance the passage of critical legislation like the DREAM Act.” 

Holder's address to the prominent Hispanic organization comes as both President Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaigns boost their efforts to win over voters from the key demographic. Hispanics hold sway in many pivotal battleground states, adding to their importance this election cycle.

Polls, however, show Hispanics overwhelmingly backing Obama, bolstered in part by the decision to change deportation rules.

Holder told the civil rights group that the DOJ would remain vigilant to protect the rights of all Americans.

“Over the past three years, our Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than during any other period in its history – including record numbers of human trafficking, hate crimes, and police misconduct cases,” said Holder, pledging that such efforts would remain a "top priority" for the department.

The Obama administration is also sending Vice President Biden to the convention. He is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

Romney, however, will not be attending, and chose instead to send a surrogate, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez was not given a speaking role and instead met with attendees at the conference.