At Cesar Chavez Day March, Labor's New Stance On Immigration

By Jill Replogle
April 02, 2013

Labor Supports Immigration at Cesar Chavez Day March

California, Colorado and Texas officially celebrated the life and work of labor leader Cesar Chavez on March 31. In San Diego, hundreds of union members and supporters marked the state holiday on Monday by marching through the streets of downtown, demanding — among other things — commonsense immigration reform. As Jill Replogle from our Fronteras Desk reports, the legendary farm leader had a mixed record on immigration.
Photo by Jill Replogle
Hundreds of union supporters marked Cesar Chavez Day by marching for, among other things, immigration reform.

SAN DIEGO -- Union organizer Genoveva Aguilar helped kick off a march commemorating Cesar Chavez Day in San Diego on Monday.

“Our union has lost many of its good-spirited members because of immigration audits and E-Verify," Aguilar belted into the microphone. "Are we going to permit this?"

"No!” the crowd yelled back.

Dozens of marchers held signs and wore T-shirts calling for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

But the labor movement has a mixed history on immigration. As head of the United Farmworkers Union in the 1960s and 70s, Chavez fought to keep out illegal immigrants willing to work for lower wages and replace striking workers.

And labor has generally opposed guest worker programs.

But the country’s major unions and business groups recently agreed on the framework for a new guest worker program.

The program would give visas to a limited number of low-skilled, temporary workers each year based on market needs. Pay for these workers would have to be comparable to that of their American peers.

At Monday’s march, San Diego labor leader Lorena Gonzalez said the deal was historic. And, she said, she thought if Chavez were alive, he’d be on board.

“When we’re looking at a future work flow, I think he’d be proud of what we’ve been able to do to establish the basic minimum of what workers will make as they come over," Gonzalez said, "so we’re not just bringing more and more and more immigrants to undercut American wages.”

The bipartisan group of senators crafting an immigration reform bill is expected to present it in the coming weeks.