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Honor Caesar Chavez's Legacy by Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
President Obama’s decision to honor Latino Labor Icon Caesar Chavez with a national monument was no doubt intended to try to draw Hispanic voters to his cause. Even the mainstream media recognized the obvious timing with headlines like “Obama dedicates Cesar Chavez monument, courts Latino voters” in Reuters and “With Cesar Chavez monument, Obama reaches out to Latinos” in the Los Angeles Times. Obama’s speech dedicating the monument did not mention immigration policy, but many commentators instantly tied Chavez’s legacy to liberal immigration policies.

Chavez’s slogan “si se puede” was taken up by the pro-amnesty protesters and 2006 and 2007, and the English translation—Yes We Can—became Barack Obama’s campaign slogan. Writing in the Huffington Post, Jeff Biggers argues that “Cesar Chavez's ‘si se puede’ spirit is alive and well in Arizona today … in the fight against SB 1070's ‘show me your papers’ provision.”

Ironically, however, Caesar Chavez was a firm opponent of illegal immigration. Chavez was first and foremost a labor organizer, founding the National Farm Workers Association which later became the United Farm Workers. He organized legal American workers, and when they struck, the employers would often employ illegal immigrants as scabs. As Ruben Navarrette writes in,

“According to many historical accounts, Chavez ordered union members to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service and report illegal immigrants who were working in the fields so that they could be deported. Some UFW officials were also known to picket INS offices to demand a crackdown on illegal immigrants.”

Navarrette continues, “Under the supervision of Chavez's cousin, Manuel, UFW members tried at first to persuade Mexicans not to cross the border. One time when that didn't work, they physically attacked and beat them up to scare them off, according to reports at the time.” Pat Buchanan’s excellent book State of Emergency describes these events under the section header as “Caesar Chavez, Minuteman.” It’s worth noting that the Chavez actually did what the Minuteman were accused of doing by the media. While Chavez used vigilante force to stop illegal immigrants, The Minutemen merely called up federal immigration officials to report illegals.

Some amnesty supporters acknowledge Chavez’s views on immigration, but insist he would have changed his mind and supported amnesty. Bianca Guzman of the Chicano Studies Department at Cal State told the Los Angeles Times "He was always proactive and I think he would have come around. … I couldn't picture him at a press conference coming out against the Dream Act."

Maybe she’s right, but it seems pretty silly to invoke Chavez to support amnesty on the grounds that he might have decided to change his views.

Chavez was not alone among labor leaders opposing massive immigration. T Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor argued that “America is for Americans alone” and that “those who favor unrestricted immigration care nothing for the people. They are simply desirous of flooding the country with unskilled as well as skilled labor of other lands for the purpose of breaking down American standards.”

Today almost every single labor union and Hispanic group supports amnesty for illegal immigrants. What has changed? Certainly not the fact that illegal immigrants directly compete for jobs against Hispanic Americans and other working class citizens. Rather, the unions and ethnic lobbies are more concerned about helping elect more Democratic politicians elected and increasing their own membership rather than fighting for the interests of their constituents.

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