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Senate Judiciary Committee recommends Perez for U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights / LEP Questions by Senator Coburn

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to recommend that the full Senate confirm Thomas E. Perez to become assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights.

Feared ‘politicization’

With regard to Perez, Sessions said he found “troubling” the nominee’s support for illegal immigrants seeking driver’s licenses and feared Perez’s confirmation to the civil-rights post would lead to the “politicization of the Department of Justice.”

Coburn, a doctor-turned senator, was the only other committee member who opposed Perez.

Coburn’s opposition marked the latest episode in a feud that dates back three years.

In 2006, Perez wrote an article in “Mother Jones” magazine critical of Coburn’s legislative proposal to repeal an executive order requiring U.S. agencies to ensure that those with limited English skills can access federally funded programs, including hospital care. 

Copy of article:

Perez wrote that Coburn’s measure, which failed, “could literally mean the difference between life and death for medical patients with limited English.” Perez stated that Coburn, an obstetrician, had shown “a distressing disregard for the doctor-patient relationship [and] by promoting this amendment [would] undermine meaningful communication between doctors and patients — thus relegating those who do not speak English to a lower rung on our health-care system.”

Perez defended his comments this spring.

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act provides that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of …. national origin … be denied the benefits of … any program receiving federal financial assistance,” Perez wrote in response to a question Coburn submitted to him during the committee’s review of his record.

“It is well settled pursuant to long-standing Supreme Court precedent that under Title VI and the accompanying regulations, health care providers who receive federal financial assistance have a legal obligation to ensure that people with limited English proficiency can meaningfully access the program or service,” Perez added. “This is the law of the land, and if confirmed as assistant attorney general for civil rights, I would have an obligation to enforce it.”

But Coburn said Thursday that Perez’s call for translators in hospitals goes “far beyond the realm of any law.”

The expense of hiring translators would increase the already skyrocketing costs of health care, Coburn said.

Furthermore, translators are not needed in hospitals, where doctors often tend to patients through voice inflection and unspoken direction. Coburn said.

The senator added he has delivered many babies without any complaint from mothers who could not speak English.

“When they’re in labor, they don’t care if I speak Spanish,” Coburn said.

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