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Roger Gitlin: Happy birthday, Senor Chavez

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Posted: March 28, 2009 11:03 p.m.
Updated: March 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Tuesday, March 31, would have been Cesar Chavez' birthday.

Unquestionably one of the most significant labor leaders of our time, Cesar Chavez was a giant in the civil rights arena.

Through the efforts of Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the United Farm Workers Association was formed in 1962. The UFW significantly changed for the better the plight of the agricultural worker in the United States.

Few would disagree that Cesar Chavez was to Mexican-Americans what Martin Luther King Jr. was to African-Americans. In every sense of the word, Chavez was a genuine American civil rights icon.

His birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight states, including California. All state government offices, community colleges (including College of the Canyons), and most libraries will be closed in his honor Tuesday.

K-12 schools in California, including the William S. Hart Union High School District, will remain open.

Born in Yuma, Ariz., in 1927, Chavez was a third-generation American. He grew up dirt poor. From childhood, he was picking fruit and vegetables in Arizona and Southern California.

Chavez was also a Navy veteran and an adherent of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was a pacifist who shunned violence as a means to the end.

During the 1970s, Chavez took on the powerful grape growers of the San Joaquin Valley. Through a national grape boycott, Chavez urged Americans to stop buying grapes as a way to force the growers to negotiate with the newly formed Union.

It worked. In 1978, Chavez and the United Farm Workers reached an agreement to represent all farm workers and to establish their right to organize.

In 1984, Chavez announced a new grape boycott, this time focusing on pesticides. To emphasize his point, he fasted for 36 days.

Accolades and recognition for Cesar Chavez were extensive and international. In 1963. he was awarded the Pacem in Terris ("Peace on Earth") Award from Pope John XXIII. Since Chavez' death in 1993, countless streets, highways, schools and centers have been named in his honor.

I will wager you did not know that Cesar Chavez was a long-time foe of illegal immigration. According to the American Conservative, through the efforts of the United Farm Workers, wages for stoop laborers was significantly raised between the years 1965 and 1981.
Those gains have largely disappeared for one reason: illegal immigration.

In a 1979 testimony to Congress, Chavez complained, "When the farm workers strike and the strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal alien strike-breakers to break the strike. And for over 30 years, the immigration and Naturalization Service (now ICE) has looked the other way and assisted in the strike-breaking."

He went on to testify that the employers used professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border for the specific act of strike-breaking.

Wow! Spoken like a true American patriot.

In 1969, Chavez led a march to the Mexican border and set up a "wet line" to protest illegal immigration. He was accompanied by then-Vice President Walter Mondale and a successor to Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy.

Cesar Chavez demanded the federal government close the border and he routinely reported suspected illegal immigrants to the U.S. Border Patrol.

According to Steve Sailer, writing for the American Conservative in 2006, the UFW actually picketed INS offices to close the border. Sailer writes, "Cesar Chavez finked on illegal aliens cross the border."

Cesar Chavez was the first modern-day Minuteman.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 50 percent of the nation's registered Latino voters feel there are "too many immigrants in the United States." The same poll showed 7 percent of Hispanics thought there were too few immigrants.

Bryan Fischer, writing for Renew America, states that Mexico gains more than just the untaxed money sent home from illegals to Mexico. Jorge G. Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister, told Fischer an insecure border allows Mexico's mostly white ruling class to "bleed off" the discontented poor rather than change the kind of fundamental reforms necessary to make the Mexican economy vibrant and healthy.

Sometimes we automatically assume America's self-appointed Mexican leaders, such as La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, favor more Latino immigration, legal or not. But the mass importation of Third World poverty dramatically alters the balance of the American economy.

Our schools, hospitals and social services suffer to the point of breaking.

Cesar Chavez took his position out of Economics 101: the law of supply and demand. He knew that by bringing in masses of unskilled laborers, wages would be depressed.

Tuesday would have been Cesar Chavez' 82 birthday. Still America struggles to come to terms with its current immigration policy.

There are laws on the books that are simply not being enforced. Enforce those laws, secure the border and watch wages stabilize and then rise to fulfill Chavez' dream.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Roger Gitlin is a Santa Clarita teacher and founder of the Santa Clarita Valley independent Minutemen. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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