January 28, 2011


NEW YORK-Cesar A. Perales, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF (PRLDEF), was honored with the 2011 Haywood Burns Award from the New York State Bar Association during the State Bar's Annual Meeting at the Hilton New York in Manhattan.

Sponsored by the Committee on Civil Rights, the award recognizes an individual whose contributions to New York reflect Dean W. Haywood Burns' commitment to the struggle for equality and justice, while sharing Burns' passion for civil rights and for empowering the powerless.

The committee honored Perales for his four decades of strong civil rights leadership. Perales was one of the founders of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the organization's first president. Under his leadership, PRLDEF initiated  lawsuits that would establish the right to bilingual education, strike down civil service requirements that kept Latinos from public employment, and eliminate barriers to government benefits for non-English speaking applicants. PRLDEF's national impact was felt in 1975 when the U.S. Congress amended the Voting Rights Act to include the right to bilingual ballots-a right established by PRLDEF in the federal courts in 1973.

"For nearly 40 years, Cesar Perales has been one of New York's most effective and inspiring civil rights leaders. As one of the founders of LatinoJustice - formerly PRLDEF - in the early 1970s, Cesar was a pioneering voice in many of the signature civil rights issues of the day. Twenty years later, after a distinguished career in public service, Cesar returned to lead LatinoJustice into the 21st Century to defend the basic human and civil rights of immigrants against a wave of anti-immigrant bias. His decades of devotion to the Latino community is as heartfelt as it is unmatched," said Committee Chair Fernando A. Bohorquez, Jr. of New York (Baker Hostetler LLP). "On behalf of the committee, we are most pleased to honor Cesar for his extraordinary work and commitment to the ongoing civil rights movement."

 A graduate of City College and Fordham Law School, Perales was former deputy mayor for health and human services for New York City under Mayor David Dinkins and was commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services under Governor Mario Cuomo. He was confirmed by the Senate as assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services under President Jimmy Carter.

 Following his distinguished career in public service, Perales rejoined the PRLDEF in 2003, which has since been at the forefront of one of the Latino communities' daunting challenges: defending the basic rights of immigrants. Its recent landmark victories have established that local anti-immigrant ordinances are preempted by federal law, that fair housing protections accrue to immigrant families, and that day laborers have the right to seek employment in public places without police harassment. 
The award is given to honor the significant contributions of the late civil rights lawyer and academic, Dean W. Haywood Burns. From the young age of 15 until his untimely death at the age of 55 while promoting civil rights in post-apartheid South Africa, the former dean of the City University of New York School of Law was a leader in the cause of expanding the civil rights of all people.

Previous award winners include: Mary Sansone, founder of the Congress of Italian-Americans Organizations Inc. (CIAO) and the Community Understanding for Racial and Ethnic Equality, Inc. (CURE); Dr. Parveen Chopra; Donna Lieberman of New York (executive director, New York Civil Liberties Union); and Hon. Cornelius Blackshear of New York (retired, U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York).

The 77,000 member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, State Bar programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for 135 years.