On March 31, Cesar Chavez Day, economics professor Steven Shulman's letter asserted that Cesar Chavez opposed illegal immigration. Mr. Shulman is an outspoken anti-immigrationist. Cesar Chavez was not.
Chavez did not oppose undocumented immigrants. Rather, he opposed immigration laws that do not allow a legal means for immigrant farm workers to obtain permanent residency. Chavez and his union, the United Farm Workers, advocated for and achieved an amnesty that allowed many undocumented farm workers to legalize during the 1980s. These workers eventually obtained permanent residency. Chavez also advocated for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program, another federal law that allowed farm workers to legalize. These programs no longer exist, and for most undocumented farm workers today, there is no legal means to immigrate.
Today, Cesar Chavez's union, the United Farm Workers, lobbies for passage of the Ag-JOBS bill, a bill that would allow certain undocumented farm workers to legalize. Visit Chavez's union's Web site, www.ufw.org, to send a message to your legislators in support of this bill. AgJOBS is also supported by the Farmworker Justice Fund, another organization that advocates for farm workers. Read more at www.fwjustice.org.
Shulman is correct when he writes that undocumented immigration undermines unions and lowers wages. However, blaming immigrants for their low wages is not the solution. Rather, we should support immigration policy that allows immigrants a legal means to obtain permanent residency, so that they will not be forced to work for employers who exploit them. AgJOBS is such a policy.
Attorney at Law and Advocate for Farm Workers
Student Legal Services