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Obama immigration aide seeks to finish journey

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"She’s a forceful champion for her point of view, but is also a loyal team player to the president and her fellow staff members," Murguia said. "That is a very difficult balancing act and I think sometimes that has opened her up to criticism from others."

Born in Detroit to Bolivian immigrants, Munoz spent her teenage years working a drive-thru window at a McDonald’s before attending the University of Michigan and graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. Munoz, 50, is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant for her work on immigration policy and civil rights.

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Munoz, the mother of two daughters, joined Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign as an adviser on Hispanic issues. Despite her deep Washington connections, she had never worked directly in government before the newly elected Obama asked her to join the White House and lead the office of intergovernmental affairs. That job focused on outreach to state and local officials.

Last year, Munoz was promoted to head of the Domestic Policy Council, becoming the highest-ranking Hispanic in the White House and taking charge of a wide swath of policies, including education and gay rights. The move thrust Munoz into the senior ranks of the White House, though she continues to maintain a lower profile than many of the president’s top advisers.

Despite her reputation as a forceful advocate, colleagues say the petite, soft-spoken Munoz sometimes can be underestimated in a White House inner circle largely dominated by men. Those close to her say she is sensitive, a quick crier, and collegial, sometimes inviting co-workers having a rough day into her office, where she pulls out enormous bags of pretzels and chocolate to snack on.

As congressional lawmakers debate Obama’s immigration proposals, Munoz is providing technical assistance to lawmakers, seeking to rally support from her old activist friends, and readying for the possibility that the White House will send its own bill to Congress if negotiations stall.

While co-workers say Munoz is realistic about the challenges to come, she’s already thought about standing in the White House as Obama signs comprehensive immigration legislation into law. She plans to be there clutching Kennedy’s letter, a reminder of those who paved the way for the long journey she is on the cusp of completing.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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