Bryan Fischer
March 22, 2007
Cesar Chavez: Longtime foe of illegal immigration
By Bryan Fischer

This week has been Cesar Chavez week at Boise State University, as our local campus celebrates the legacy of one of the three men to have his birthday celebrated as an official holiday in California (the other two: Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King, Jr.). Chavez, who died in 1993, is being portrayed as a champion of illegal immigration when the truth in fact is a bit different.

According to a 2006 article in The American Conservative by Steve Sailer, although Chavez's union, the United Farm Workers, did manage to raise wages significantly for stoop laborers from 1965 to 1981, those gains have largely disappeared for one reason: illegal immigration.

Chavez himself was a third generation American citizen and a Navy veteran. Although he has become over time virtually the patron saint of the Reconquista movement to reclaim all of the southwest for Mexico, in his prime he was an ardent opponent of illegal immigration and actively fought against the importation of strikebreakers from Mexico.

Chavez understood the basic laws of supply and demand the greater the supply (of labor), the less the demand (and hence the lower the wages). Just as the founder of the American Federation of Labor Samuel Gompers was an influential voice calling for the immigration-restricting law of 1924, so Chavez openly and actively opposed illegal immigration because it crippled his ability to unionize farm workers and increase their wages.

In 1979 testimony to Congress, Chavez complained, "... 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. ... The employers use professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border for the specific act of strikebreaking..."

In 1969, Chavez actually led a march to the Mexican border to protest illegal immigration, accompanied by Sen. Walter Mondale and Ralph Abernathy, whom alert readers will recognize as Martin Luther King's successor as head of the Southern Leadership Conference.

Chavez demanded that the federal government close the border, routinely reported suspected illegal immigrants to immigration officials, and put his brother in charge of Minutemen-like border patrols which on more than one occasion resulted in the beatings of intruders.

The collapse of the Mexican economy in 1982 sent a flood of illegal immigrants north of the border, driving down wages, and making border enforcement politically problematic. As one economist noted, "We have essentially privatized the immigration policy of this country, and left it in the hands of California's growers."

While cheap labor does reduce the cost of, say, strawberries, it does so only minimally. This economist noted that perhaps 7 percent of the price paid by shoppers for strawberries actually goes to pickers. Meanwhile, citizen taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab for workers' medical care and social services and their children's schooling. The National Academy of Sciences estimated in 1997 that an immigrant without a high-school degree ultimately costs America $100,000 more than he contributes.

As the UFW declined into irrelevance in the 1980s, Chavez began to back mass immigration as a way of maintaining political visibility.

Yet the Latin-American electorate remains ambivalent about illegal immigration. According to a 2002 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, 48 percent of registered Latino voters felt that there were "too many" immigrants in the U.S. while only 7 percent thought there were "too few."

This makes sense, of course, since the nation's Hispanics often suffer the consequences of illegal immigration most directly in terms of lower wages, dysfunctional schools, and pressure from relatives to assist them in sneaking into the U.S.

Illegal immigration is a benefit to Mexico in ways other than money sent home by workers in the U.S., the second largest source of income in the Mexican economy behind oil. As a former Mexican Foreign Minister admitted, an insecure border allows Mexico's most white ruling class to, in Sailer's words, "bleed off" the discontented poor rather than make the kind of fundamental reforms necessary to make the Mexican economy vibrant and healthy.

© Bryan Fischer

Comments feature added August 14, 2011

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