Biden Claims the Mantle of Cesar Chavez, While Ignoring the Labor Leader’s Opposition to Illegal Immigration

The president, in an Oval Office interview with Univision, touts the United Farm Workers’ leader and casts himself as sympathetic to illegal migrants. A closer look at the record, however, shows Chavez backing the law-and-order approach of President Trump.

United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez talks to striking Salinas Valley farmworkers during a large rally in Salinas, California, on March 7, 1979. AP/Sakuma

“I need you badly,” Mr. Biden told Hispanic voters last month at Phoenix. Given the opportunity to reach them, he showed the Univision anchor, Enrique Acevedo, a bust of farm union organizer Cesar Chavez. The president discussed the impact of his activism and noted that his granddaughter, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, is his reelection campaign manager.  

Mr. Biden told Univision he sympathized with those entering America because “they have no alternatives.” Chavez, a third-generation American and Navy veteran, took a harder line on those who broke the law — one that demonstrates the folly of painting the entire Latino voting block as backing unlimited migration.

In an excerpt of a 1974 interview unearthed by Fish Films Footage World, Chavez explained his opposition to unvetted people entering the country. His reasoning echoed another famed labor leader, Samuel Gompers, who was one of the loudest voices for The Immigration Act of 1924 which capped entry at two percent of each foreign country’s population.

Illegal border crossers, Chavez said, were “an emergency” with “an awful lot of illegals coming in by the hundreds, by the thousands.” He lamented that “some of the schools are 100 percent illegals,” and “the citizen is out of a job because of he wetback,” a slur now considered offensive.

As Mr. Trump does today, Chavez blamed the federal government for the “unbelievable” influx that, he reckoned, harmed unions and depressed wages. Was it “an uncomfortable position to be against the illegal immigrants because they are from Mexico,” the unidentified interviewer asked.

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Chavez replied. “But we’re speaking of the legal ones. You know, we don’t want Mexico to export its poverty to us, and then we pay.” He noted that “a lot of” the farmworkers he represented were “of Mexican descent themselves.”

Those members of the United Farm Workers, Chavez said, were “very uptight and very, very worried — and very mad — about the illegals coming to break their strikes and take away their jobs, their livelihood and so forth.” Members, like their leader, saw “this question of illegals is … as important as any of the other problems facing the union.”

In a letter to the San Francisco Examiner in 1974, Chavez opposed deporting the undocumented, but welcomed them to be admitted as “legal residents.” But around this time, he launched “the Illegals Campaign,” spending $80,000 a week on 300 people to patrol the border. Accounts found some of the vigilantes beating and robbing migrants despite Chavez’s embrace of nonviolence.

Last week, an Axios-Ipsos Latino Poll found that numbers of Hispanic voters are as nuanced as Chavez’s. Some 64 percent supported giving a president the authority to shut down the border “if there are too many migrants trying to enter.” Asked which candidate is “good on immigration,” Mr. Trump led Mr. Biden 29 to 22 percent.

Forty-two percent backed Mr. Trump’s signature issue, a barrier with Mexico, while 38 percent would send “all undocumented immigrants” back home. Overall, Mr. Biden was viewed more favorably, 41 to 32 percent, but the pathway to expanding that lead isn’t a straight run through an open border policy.

Last month’s New York Times/Siena College poll found that Hispanic voters favor Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden 46 percent to 40 percent. It’s a stark change from 2020, when the Democrat more than doubled the then-incumbent Republican’s share, 66 percent to 32 percent.

The reversal has shocked the White House. It assumed that Mr. Trump’s hard line against illegal immigration would make him radioactive to Americans of Hispanic descent, as if the same issues — crime, housing, and competition for jobs — don’t impact them as they do other citizens.

Mr. Biden has won the endorsement of Chavez’s family, but on the issue of illegal crossings, Mr. Trump can lay claim to a portion of the labor leader’s legacy, too. Don’t be surprised if his bust keeps its place of honor in the Oval Office whoever is in the Oval Office next year.

The New York Sun

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