Politics
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 27, 2013. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas) Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 27, 2013. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)  

Menendez, Sessions fight over legacy of immigration activist Cesar Chavez

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez blocked a GOP effort to honor Arizona-born Cesar Chevez for his work shielding American farm workers from employers’ use of low-wage illegal laborers.

The GOP’s resolution language honoring Chavez, who died in 1993, declared that “Cesar Estrada Chavez strongly believed in enforcing immigration laws, thereby reducing the deleterious effects of inexpensive labor on the wages of farm workers in the United States.”

But Menendez slammed the GOP’s language, saying March 31 that “it is an injustice to his memory to offer such an amendment, and that’s why I will have to object.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions objected to Menendez’s progressive-style resolution praising Chavez, once Menendez blocked the GOP’s amendment to his resolution.

Under Senate rules, any senator can block a resolution until there’s a formal vote by the senators.

Progressives and Latino lobbies are trying to make Chavez into a saint-like political figure for Hispanics by rewriting Chavez’s history of pro-American activism.

Chavez was a outspoken advocate for border protections, which he said were needed to shield American farm workers from employers’ use of low-wage Latino illegal immigrants. His activism ended the so-called “Bracero” guest work program, and helped triple the wages of American farm workers by the early 1970s.

“As long as we have a poor country bordering California, it is going to be very difficult to win strikes,” Chavez told an interviewer in 1972.

His pro-American history is a problem for progressives and Latino lobbies because they want to boost the inflow of Latino immigrants. So Democrats and their allies simply hide Chavez’s opposition to low-wage immigration.

President Barack Obama declared in March that “none of us can claim to know exactly what Cesar would have said about this [2014 immigration] fight, or any other.”

A new movie about Chavez downplays his opposition to immigration. The movie’s Mexican director, Diego Luna, described the movie as a way to aid immigrants. ”We’re coming out with ‘Cesar Chavez’ at the right moment in the States,” he told Variety in February. “There’s a big debate in the U.S. about immigration reform [and] we need to reflect on who’s feeding this country today, why this community has been ignored.”

The goal has imposed a heavy price on American farm workers, most of whom are Hispanic.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the political alliance of industry groups, unions and progressives reduced border enforcement and allowed employers to hire millions of illegal immigrants. That inflow reduced the wages of American farm workers, down to roughly $10 per hour.

Business groups and progressives are now pushing the GOP to double the inflow of new immigrants, even if the inflow also blocks a wage increase for American farm workers.

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