Obama to Establish National Monument to Cesar Chavez -- a Foe of Illegal Immigration

By Fred Lucas | October 2, 2012 | 12:52pm EDT

Cesar Chavez and California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr., walk in UFW march, Aug. 11, 1979. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama will travel to California next Monday to establish a national monument honoring Cesar Chavez, the late Mexican-American farm workers’ leader.

Ironically, Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers union, was a foe of open borders and led a 1969 march on the California-Mexico border to oppose illegal immigration.

“Cesar Chavez gave a voice to poor and disenfranchised workers everywhere,” Obama said in a statement.

“La Paz was at the center of some of the most significant civil rights moments in our nation’s history, and by designating it a national monument, Chávez’ legacy will be preserved and shared to inspire generations to come.”

Obama will travel to Keene, Calif., on Oct. 8 -- less than a month before Election Day -- where he hopes to galvanize both the Hispanic and organized labor vote against Republican opponent Mitt Romney.

The monument was designated under the Antiquities Act and will be established on the property known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or La Paz, according to the White House.

In 1979, Chavez testified before Congress about farm workers and the problem of illegal immigration.

In his remarks before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources during the 96th Congress, Chavez complained about illegal immigrants being brought in by growers as strikebreakers. (The testimony is posted on the University of Houston Digital History Web site.)

“For so many years we have been involved in agricultural strikes; organizing almost 30 years as a worker, as an organizer, and as president of the union--and for all these almost 30 years it is apparent that when the farm workers strike and their strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal alien strikebreakers to break the strike,” Chavez told senators.

“And, for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking,” he said.

“I do not remember one single instance in 30 years where the Immigration service has removed strikebreakers -- The employers use professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border for the specific act of strikebreaking,” he added.

“We have observed all these years the Immigration Service has a policy as it has been related to us, that they will not take sides in any agricultural labor dispute -- They have not taken sides means permitting the growers to have unrestricted use of illegal aliens as strikebreakers, and if that isn't taking sides, I don't know what taking sides means.”

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On Nov. 5, 2009, when Congress voted to name a U.S. Post Office after Chavez, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) spoke about Chavez’s tough stance on border enforcement.

“Mr. Speaker, there is a lot about Cesar Chavez that a lot of people don't remember. The fact is that he was a decorated naval veteran. Also, they don't remember that Cesar Chavez was probably a good, well, 20 years ahead of his time. In fact, Cesar Chavez in 1969 led the first march on the Mexican border to protest illegal immigration,” Bilbray said.

César Chávez at a United Farm Workers rally, 1974. (Photo: Wikipedia)

“He was accompanied by Walter Mondale and Ralph Abernathy at that time to alert all to the problems that were equating with illegal immigration at that time. In fact, in 1979, Mr. Chavez, testifying before Congress, pointed out that when farm workers strike and their strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal immigrants to break our strikes.”

“He also pointed out that the employers used professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border specifically to break the union strikes of the farm workers. I think as we recognize him, we understand that history does repeat itself,” Bilbray continued.

“Years and years later, 20 years later, there were those raising the issue of the impact on the working class by illegal immigration, but first and foremost there was Cesar Chavez at the Mexican border saying illegal immigration is hurting us more than anybody is willing to admit and that the growers and the wealthy were benefiting from the exploitation of illegal immigration,” the congressman said.

Rep. Bilbray added: “History will show that Cesar Chavez was right and brave to stand up in 1969, and we should be doing the same today.”

The United Farm Workers Web site, however, paints a different picture of Chavez, calling him a “champion” of immigration reform.

“In 1973, decades before most labor organizations acted, the UFW became one of the very first unions to oppose the ‘employer sanction,’ a federal law making it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers.” The UFW Web site points out.

Chavez was born in 1927 and died in 1993.

The La Paz property served as the national headquarters of the UFW as well as the home and workplace of Chávez and his family from the early 1970’s until his death, and includes his grave site, which will also be part of the monument, the White House news release said.

As the head of the UFW, Chavez staged a large grape boycott with Latino farm workers, and 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of his founding of the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the UFW.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the site's designation on the National Register of Historic Places last year.

The National Chavez Center, in consultation with the United Farm Workers of America, the Cesar Chavez Foundation and members of Cesar Chavez’s family, offered to donate certain properties at La Paz to the federal government for the purpose of establishing a national monument to be managed by the National Park Service commemorating Chavez and the farm worker movement, according to the White House.

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