Why Cesar Chavez Would Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform

In a recent column on Pajamas Media by Ruben Navarrette Jr. titled "Cesar Chavez Would Not Have Supported Amnesty for Illegals" (April 8, 2010), the author takes issue with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) for calling on Congress to honor Cesar Chavez and his legacy by approving comprehensive immigration reform.

Navarrette argues that "Chavez was a fierce opponent of illegal immigration, and so it's unlikely that he'd have looked favorably on a plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants." He also says that "Chavez was primarily a labor leader," who opposed illegal immigration because of the competition it would cause with union farmworkers.

With all due respect, perhaps the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) is a better judge of Cesar Chavez's legacy than Ruben Navarrette, Jr. The "Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act" (CIR ASAP) includes the "Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act" (AgJOBS), which contains crucial provisions for farmworkers, the very people advocated for by Chavez's organization, the UFW. Current UFW leaders, many of whom worked closely with Chavez during the period that Navarrette describes in his column, have also been working tirelessly to achieve immigration reform. They recognize, as Chavez surely would, that it is in every worker's interest to make sure that nobody is a victim of exploitation, indentured servitude, wage theft, and many of the other ills that our broken immigration system currently allows.

In fact, UFW's current president and Chavez's son-in-law Arturo Rodriguez spoke at a recent rally for immigration reform in Washington, DC. He stated that "now more than ever, a comprehensive U.S. immigration reform is key in helping rebuild our country and giving back American working families the prosperity and equality they deserve." Rodriguez also stated in a press release issued on March 19, 2010 that "The farm worker movement Cesar began is the root of the Latino political movement," and "now we have a president, Barack Obama, whose own roots are like ours and whose presidential campaign was rooted in Cesar's grito, 'Si se puede!' or 'Yes we can!'"

NCLR, like Chavez and the UFW, is an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, but does not support illegal immigration. NCLR urges lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform for the sake of all of America's workers, for the very same reasons that Navarrette cites--maintaining fair wages, leveling the playing field of America's workforce, and upholding high workplace standards. Navarrette fails to grasp that unscrupulous employers are currently benefiting from our broken immigration system by exploiting vulnerable workers, paying unfair wages, and depressing compensation for all American workers, especially in the agriculture, meat-processing, and other industries often occupied by low-wage and undocumented workers. Immigration reform that levels the playing field for all workers--affording them fair wages, hours, and worksite protections--would automatically eliminate the trap door that bad-actor employers currently exploit to gain an advantage over their competitors and hold so many workers hostage to abuse and unbearable working conditions. It's hard to imagine that the civil rights leader who championed the labor cause would be against legislation that would be in the best interest of workers and restore the rule of law.

NCLR urges lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform in honor of Chavez's legacy. Here is my quote that Navarrette failed to include in its entirety:

Cesar Chavez shined a national spotlight on the depressed wages and unbearable working conditions experienced by agricultural laborers in the 1960s. Still, today, too many farmworkers face similar conditions. An essential element of any solution to the myriad problems faced by farmworkers is immigration reform, including provisions in the 'AgJOBS Act of 2009' (H.R. 2412) that will reduce incentives for growers to hire undocumented workers by improving protections for all of our nation's farmworkers.

It's hard to imagine that Chavez would disagree.