Cesar Chavez Against Illegals
The UFW during Chávez's tenure was committed to restricting immigration. César Chávez and Dolores Huerta fought
the Bracero Program that existed from 1942 to 1964. Their opposition stemmed from their belief that the program
undermined US workers and exploited the migrant workers. Their efforts contributed to Congress ending the Bracero
Program in 1964. In 1973, the UFW was one of the first labor unions to oppose proposed
employer sanctions that would have prohibited hiring undocumented immigrants. Later during the 1980s, while Chávez
was still working alongside UFW president, Dolores Huerta, the cofounder of the UFW, was key in getting the amnesty
provisions into the 1986 federal immigration act.
On a few occasions, concerns that undocumented migrant labor would undermine UFW strike campaigns led to a
number of controversial events, which the UFW describes as anti-strikebreaking
events, but which have also been interpreted as being anti-immigrant. In 1969, Chávez and members of the UFW
marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys to the border of Mexico to protest growers' use of
undocumented immigrants as strikebreakers. Joining him on the march were both Reverend Ralph Abernathy and US
Senator Walter Mondale. In its early years, Chávez and the UFW went so far as to report undocumented
immigrants who served as strikebreaking replacement workers, as well as those who refused to unionize, to the
Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In 1973, the United Farm Workers set up a "wet line" along the United States-Mexico border to prevent Mexican
immigrants from entering the United States illegally and potentially undermining the UFW's unionization
efforts. During one such event in which Chávez was not involved, some UFW members, under the guidance of
Chávez's cousin Manuel, physically attacked the strikebreakers, after attempts to peacefully persuade them not to
cross the border failed.
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 led a march to the Mexican border to protest illegal immigration. He had Sen. Walter Mondale and
Ralph Abernathy with him. Chavez wanted the federal government to close the border. He also wanted to send
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.
"Our potential competition appears almost unlimited as thousands upon thousands of green carders pour across the
border during peak harvest seasons. These are people who, though lawfully admitted to the United States for
permanent residence, have not now, and probably never had, any bona fide intention of making the United States of
America their permanent home. They come here to earn American dollars to spend in Mexico where the cost of living
is lower. They are natural economic rivals of those who become American citizens or who otherwise decide to stake
out their future in this country. In abolishing the bracero program, Congress has but scotched the snake, not
killed it. The program lives on in the annual parade of thousands of illegal and green carders across the United
States-Mexico border to work in our fields. To achieve law and order in any phase of human activity, legislators
must pay need to other laws not made by man, one of which is the economic law of supply and demand. We are asking
Congress to pay heed to this law in the light of some hard facts about farm labor supply along our southern border.
Otherwise, extension of [the National Labors Relations Act] coverage to farm workers in that part of the country
will not produce much law and order. What we ask is some way to keep the illegals and green carders from breaking
strikes; some civil remedy against growers who employ behind our picket lines those who have entered the United
States illegally, and, likewise those green carders who have not permanently moved their residence and domicile to
the United States"