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Nomination Of Republican Latino Judge To Federal Court Challenged By Anti-Immigration Conservative

Phil Kent, who has been involved with anti-immigration groups, said Judge Dax López's leadership position on the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials was problematic because it has advocated for an immigration overhaul.

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The nomination of the man who would be Georgia’s first Latino lifetime-appointed federal judge is being opposed by a member of the state’s immigration enforcement board because of his involvement in a Latino leadership group.

Phil Kent, who serves on Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement and Review Board but is also involved with anti-immigration groups, wrote in an op-ed that President Barack Obama’s nomination of DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax López to be a federal district court judge should be blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.

López’s membership on the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) was problematic, Kent said, because of the organization’s support for immigration reform and for denouncing the state’s official English-in-government law. López has been a member of GALEO since 2004.

Kent wrote that it was laughable that López is being presented as being a Republican.

“Can López be an ‘impartial’ federal judge at a time when his benefactor Obama has been bypassing Congress with unconstitutional executive actions granting amnesty and ‘deferred status’ to illegal immigrants?” said Kent, referring to the president’s immigration protections to immigrant youth and their parents.

López told BuzzFeed News he was not permitted to comment during the nomination process.

Kent is strongly against immigration and is the national spokesperson of Americans for Immigration Control, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classified as a hate group. The group wants to deports all undocumented immigrants and reduce annual legal immigration "to numbers which can be readily assimilated," according to its website. He was appointed to the state's Immigration Enforcement and Review Board by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

GALEO has supported immigration reform and voting rights initiatives, said Jerry Gonzalez, founder and executive director of GALEO.

Gonzalez said his group is a nonpartisan organization which takes positions supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Their positions have not been in the extreme as Mr. Kent alludes,” Gonzalez told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t think Mr. Kent understands what it means to be a sitting judge.”

The question of whether López can be an impartial judge is ridiculous, Gonzalez said. As a judge, López’s job is to interpret the law without bias, which Gonzalez argued he has done for years since he was appointed to be a state judge in in DeKalb County by a Republican.

In 2011, GALEO challenged a state law that created the Immigration Enforcement Review Board Kent serves on. The board reviews complaints related to undocumented immigration and has the power to sanction those who have violated Georgia’s immigration law. GALEO also objected to Kent’s appointment, Gonzalez said.

Last month, Obama announced López’s nomination to serve the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. López has been a state judge in DeKalb County since 2010, where he presides over both civil and criminal matters.

He still has to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, and Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. David Perdue decide whether the Judiciary Committee will take up his nomination.

According to the White House, López previously worked as an attorney at the now-dissolved Foltz Martin LLC in Atlanta. Before that, he worked at the law firm of Ashe, Rafuse & Hill, and he worked at Holland & Knight from 2002 to 2005.

López began his legal career by serving as a law clerk to Héctor Laffitte, chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, the White House said in a statement, and he received his law and bachelor's degrees from Vanderbilt University.

“It’s important to ensure that we have a judiciary that reflects the growing diversity of our nation,” Gonzalez said. “Latinos are a growing force within the Southeast and Judge López would certainly be a great added value to the federal court system.”

Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.

Contact Adolfo Flores at adolfo.flores@buzzfeed.com.

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