CNS News reports that President Obama will take part in an Oct. 8 ceremony establishing a national monument honoring the late Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers union. What’s ironic about Obama’s gesture is that he will likely compare Chavez’ struggle for farm worker rights to the movement to bestow rights (and citizenship) on illegal aliens when Chavez was, in fact, an adamant opponent of illegal immigration.
Obama, of course, is hoping to spur Hispanic and union voters to re-elect him but one can’t help feeling that this is a cynical attempt to re-write history to suit his needs. If he truly meant to honor Chavez, he would enforce the immigration laws designed to keep cheap, illegal labor from displacing citizens and legal residents.
Chavez testified before Congress in 1979 about how illegal immigration, and government complicity, hurt farm workers:
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. And, for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking.
I do not remember one single instance in 30 years where the Immigration service has removed strikebreakers. 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.
Fast forward to today and think about the struggles workers face in the farm and non-farm sectors of the economy. We still have a government that ignores illegal workers and fails to pursue the unscrupulous employers that hire them. And we have government policies that permit the importation of 1.5 million permanent and temporary foreign job competitors each year. So much for heeding Chavez’ concerns and learning from past mistakes.
The union Chavez founded, for that matter, hasn’t followed his path on illegal immigration. The United Farm Workers’ web site, in fact, suggests that Chavez was a “champion” of immigration reform (aka amnesty).
Politicians often use slogans and rhetoric to hide the true intent of their policies. But it’s hard to cover up the real-life consequences of bad policies. People must deal with their fallout every day. In the case of bad policies on illegal immigration, the most vulnerable among us are hit the hardest.
Vernon Briggs, Jr., an Emeritus Professor of Labor and Human Resource Economics at Cornell University, once wrote,
Illegal immigration disproportionately and adversely affects the economic well-being of the most vulnerable and needy segment of the nation’s labor force: its low skilled workers (both those who are native-born and foreign-born). Indirectly, it corrodes the efficacy of the already weak system of employment standards the nation has for the protection of its most precious national resource: its labor force. Directly, it breeds cynicism by legally employable workers that their government does not care about the unfairness of the conditions that they must confront when they have to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs; it causes hardship by depressing wages and reducing employment opportunities for legally employable American workers; and, lastly, it fosters circumstances that tolerate worker exploitation of the illegal immigrants themselves in the labor market.
If politicians would listen to the lessons offered by Chavez, and echoed by Briggs so many years later, they would find real solutions for today’s immigration problems. Unfortunately, too many are focused on the easiest path toward re-election rather than the right path for the nation.
VAN ESSER is the Manager of Member Services for NumbersUSA