WASHINGTON, D.C. – MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) paid tribute in Washington, D.C. to three leaders who have dedicated their careers to furthering and supporting the civil rights of the Latino community.

“Our 2024 D.C. honorees are together an incredible illustration of all the important advocacy and leadership on behalf of civil rights in the Latino community,” said MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz.  “We are so fortunate to be able to rely on these leaders and so many others as we face the unique challenges of 2024 in the United States.”

Isabel Casillas Guzman, the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), received the Excellence in Government Service Award.  Guzman, who took over the SBA in 2021, is the fifth Latina to serve in a presidential cabinet. Raised by a small-business owner, Guzman has made it her mission to make sure the SBA is responsive to the people her agency serves. As the head of the SBA, she has been lauded for being an advocate for minority and underserved businesses with whom she regularly meets. Her administration manages a $500 billion portfolio and funds up to $50 million annually for small business owners. She also oversaw the Paycheck Protection Program during COVID-19 and led efforts to deliver pandemic resources to small businesses in need.

“It's a tremendous honor to be recognized by MALDEF, as we are both committed to equity and delivering opportunities to thrive to the highly entrepreneurial Latino community,” Guzman said. “I accept this honor with humility on behalf of my entire team at the SBA as we continue to work hard to level the playing field, help communities build generational wealth, and uplift future generations of Latino entrepreneurs – so that everyone can fulfill their American Dream.”

José Magaña-Salgado, founder of MASA Group, a consulting firm that works on behalf of non-profit immigration organizations, received the Excellence in Legal Service Award. Magaña-Salgado, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), has dedicated his career to advocating for immigrants, including at MALDEF as a legislative staff attorney from 2012 through 2015. He is also one of the original interveners in MALDEF’s defense of the DACA program. Magaña-Salgado co-founded the Dream Bar Association, a professional bar association led by and for undocumented immigrants, and also served as managing policy attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

“I am beyond humbled to be receiving the Legal Service in Excellence award from MALDEF,” Magaña-Salgado said. “My career in immigrant rights and social justice began at MALDEF and the mentorship of Thomas Saenz and (former Washington, D.C. Regional Counsel) Jim Ferg-Cadima were and continue to be formative and critical in developing my skillset to advocate on behalf of and serve Latinos, immigrants, noncitizens. I have and forever will consider myself a MALDEFian.”

Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education received the Excellence in Community Service Award. Excelencia in Education is a research institute and public policy analysis group that works to advance Latino student success in higher education. She was honored for her commitment to ensuring that higher education institutions serving Latino and other students provide adequate resources, including mentors and financial accountability. A recognized higher education policy and data specialist, Santiago previously served as Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

“MALDEF gives voice to Latinos and ensures the promise of America by defending the constitutional rights of all. I am proud to be a longtime supporter, and have relied on the critical work of MALDEF since I started my work in higher education,” Santiago said. “I am honored to receive the Excellence in Community Service award. At Excelencia in Education, we are also committed to increasing access and accelerating Latino student success to ensure America's bright future.”

MALDEF recognizes the significant contributions of these outstanding leaders and their dedication to advancing civil rights for all. The event draws notable government and community leaders from around the nation.