by Fausta Rodriguez Wertz
For his Labor Day speech, President Obama floated the concept of “immigration rights“:
Cynicism is a bad choice. Hope is the better choice. Hope is what gives us courage. Hope is what gave soldiers courage to storm a beach. Hope is what gives young people the strength to march for women’s rights, and worker’s rights, and civil rights, and voting rights, and gay rights, and immigration rights.
Let’s go back fifty years or so, to the days when union activist Cesar Chavez was advocating farmworkers’ rights:
Mr. Chavez, perhaps the best-known Mexican-American activist, fought for better wages and conditions for workers but held complex and evolving views on the status of unauthorized immigrants, some of which would be at odds with the changes many Hispanics and others are seeking today.
What the NYT reporter euphemistically calls “complex and evolving views” was decades-long opposition,
These days, Chávez is revered among Mexican-American activists and others as a civil rights figure. Yet that’s not who he was. Chavez was primarily a labor leader, and so one of his main concerns was keeping illegal immigrants from competing with and undercutting union members either by accepting lower wages or crossing picket lines. When he pulled workers out of the field during a strike, the last thing he wanted was a crew of illegal immigrant workers showing up to do those jobs and take away his leverage.
So Chavez decided to do something about it. According to numerous historical accounts, Chavez ordered union members to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service and report illegal immigrants who were working in the fields so that they could be deported. Some UFW officials were also known to picket INS offices to demand a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Exactly what does Obama mean by immigration rights? asks John Hinderaker,
Legally, of course, no one has a right to violate our immigration laws, whether the Obama administration enforces them or not. So what does the president have in mind here? It seems clear that Obama isn’t suggesting that immigrants are somehow being denied their actual rights under American law. Certainly he made no such explicit claim. Rather, his point appears to be that some people–not everyone in the world presumably, but some unspecified group of people–have a “right” to enter the United States, or stay here, even though it is illegal to do so under U.S. law, as long as Barack Obama opposes the law in question.
“Immigration rights”, for whom? It doesn’t matter, as long as Obama’s talking points are repeated.
For a Labor Day speech, however, it’s worth remembering that Chavez recognized that flooding the labor market with low-wage, low-skill laborers worked against his unionized farmworkers.
Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American news, politics and culture at Fausta’s Blog.