U.S. Law Center

Cesar Chavez's complicated relationship with immigration law

Today, many groups across the United States will take part in May Day celebrations. While they tend to center on human rights, many will focus on rights for illegal immgrants (and immigration reform). With these being very tough issues even as Congress embarks on a reform bill, it is interesting to revisit Cesar Chavez's past views on the topic.

Chavez was an important figure in the 1970's, as he stood as the voice for more than 200,000 migrant farmworkers as founder of the United Farm Workers Union. For most of his career as a labor organizer, he opposed illegal immigration. He feared that undocumented workers would take jobs from other Latino farmworkers; a fear that is still shared today.

The hard line that he took on illegal immigration should not be mistaken with his passion for fighting for rights of Mexican American farmworkers. In fact, he was one of the early supporters of legalization of undocumented residents.

Essentially, he believed that it was not the illegal immigrants that should be feared, it is the notion that illegal workers would drive down the price of labor, since they would be more willing to perform more work (for less) since they would have considerably less bargaining power than other temporary residents.

Unfortunately, this was not the prevailing view in the 1970's.

Nevertheless, as the immigration reform bill is debated in Congress, it may be helpful to remember (as Chavez did) many people who are citizens by birth would not be so if it were not for a parent (or grandparent) who was once an illegal immigrant.

Source: ABC News.com, Cesar Chavez's complex history with immigration, May 1, 2013

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