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Cesar Chavez and UFW: longtime champions of immigration reform

Cesar Chavez and UFW: longtime champions of immigration reform

No labor leader and organization championed immigration reform earlier and with more consistency than Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers of America. Under Chavez, the UFW opposed making it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers long before most labor groups acted. The UFW helped enact the amnesty provision of the 1986 immigration law through which 1 million farm workers became legal residents. The union’s landmark AgJobs bill has earned the broadest bipartisan backing of any immigration reform proposal currently before Congress.

Still, some people falsely claim the UFW is or has been against undocumented workers. So there is no misunderstanding, everyone should clearly understand the following: There are two separate and distinct issues—immigration reform and strikebreaking. Don’t confuse them!

The UFW has demonstrated a consistent commitment to immigration reform going back more than 40 years.

• Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta worked for years against the infamous 1942-1964 Bracero Program that exploited domestic farm workers who were denied jobs and replaced by imported farm workers who were abused by growers. In part through their efforts, Congress ended the program in 1964.

• In 1973, decades before most labor organizations acted, the UFW became one of the very first unions to oppose the “employer sanction,” a federal law making it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers.

• UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta played a crucial role in creating the amnesty provisions of the 1986 federal immigration law that enabled 1 million farm workers to become legal residents.

• The UFW spent years negotiating with the nation’s agricultural industry to create the historic bipartisan AgJobs bill allowing undocumented farm workers in this country to earn the legal right to permanently stay here by continuing to work in agriculture. Supported by a diverse range of more than 500 organizations, AgJobs is endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans, and President Obama.

Immigration reform is separate and distinct from the issue of strikebreaking. No one has the right to be a strikebreaker. No legitimate union permits its strikes to be broken by anyone, regardless of race, origin or nationality. Ironically, in past years, those strikers on UFW picketlines most vocal in demanding immigration authorities remove undocumented scabs (or strikebreakers) in the fields were themselves undocumented.