Profiles of Hispanics at EPA: Rafael DeLeon
Rafael DeLeon, Esq., Deputy Director
Office of Site Remediation Enforcement
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
Question: Where were you born?
Rafael DeLeon: East Harlem, New York, affectionately known as “Spanish Harlem” or “El Barrio.”
Question: Where did you go to college? What was your major?
Rafael DeLeon: I went to Brandeis University for undergraduate work. I majored in political science with a concentration in African and Afro-American studies and Latin American studies. After college, I went to law school at the Georgetown University Law Center. I passed the bar exam and was a lawyer at age 25.
Question: What brought you to EPA?
Rafael DeLeon: In 1987, I was selected as EPA’s National Hispanic Employment Program Manager in the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Now I have been with EPA 30 years.
Question: What kind of work do you do at EPA?
Rafael DeLeon: I am currently the Deputy Director of the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA). In this capacity, I serve as a principal legal advisor to the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance on all matters related to civil and administrative enforcement activities in the remediation/cleanup enforcement program.
I have held numerous leadership positions at EPA, some using my law degree and some not. I started my career at EPA as the National Hispanic Employment Program Manager in the Office of Civil Rights. I moved on to the Office of General Counsel as a staff attorney and moved up the ranks to serve as a supervisor and manager as an Assistant General Counsel. I later served as Associate General Counsel for Civil Rights Law, my first position in the Senior Executive Service (SES). As a non-lawyer, I have been the Director of the Office of Cooperative Environmental Management, responsible for federal advisory committees, the Director of Human Resources, and the Director of the Office of Civil Rights.
Question: What message would you like to send young Latinos who are considering going to college?
Rafael DeLeon: All young Latinos should go to college and graduate school. Education is one of the most important ways to be successful. Although it is not the only way, without a higher education, career opportunities will almost assuredly be restricted and confined to lower paying jobs. The professional job markets of today almost universally require an undergraduate and advanced degree. A high school diploma, while admirable, is not enough to be competitive in today's or tomorrow’s job market.
Recently, much has been said of the cost of a college education. Young Latinos whose parents cannot afford the cost of a 4-year private college should explore other options: state colleges and universities, community colleges, or free tuition programs offered to lower- and middle-income families by some prestigious universities and colleges.