Hispanic Caucus lashes out at Gohmert over Cesar Chavez comments

Camille Fine

Hispanic Democrats on Wednesday panned a Texas lawmaker’s proposal to declare Latino civil rights pioneer César Chavez’s birthday “National Border Control Day.”

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) released a statement calling out Rep. Louie Gohmert’s (R-Texas) proposal as “shameful.”

“For Rep. Gohmert to twist and warp the legacy of César Chávez is offensive, shameful and beyond the pale of normal logic,” said Lujan Grisham.


Gohmert introduced the resolution in the House on Tuesday, saying it was based on Chavez’s “passionate fight to gain better working environments for thousands of workers laboring in harsh conditions on farms for low wages. He also staunchly believed in sovereignty of the United States border.”

Lujan Grisham said Gohmert was misinterpreting Chávez’s labor legacy.

“Congressman Gohmert has done everything he can to attack the true legacy of César Chávez to weaken unions, undermine labor protections for workers, and derail immigration reform efforts that honor the dignity and contributions of workers and their families.”

Gohmert faced sharp criticism following the announcement of his proposal, which he based on a Chávez speech from 1979.

“In fact, it was [Chávez’s] firm belief that preventing illegal immigration was an essential prerequisite to improving the circumstances of American farmworkers; and in 1979, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., he demanded that the federal government enforce the immigration laws and keep illegal aliens out of the country,” said Gohmert.

Chávez was the founder and leader of United Farm Workers (UFW), a union that organized California’s agricultural workers — which consisted mostly of Hispanics — against abuses by their employers.

Chávez often spoke of border controls in the context of undocumented laborers being brought in from Mexico to break UFW strikes.

Gohmert argues Chávez “spent his life addressing the harmful effects that illegal migration might have on this country and advocating for a legal immigration process.”

Lujan Grisham decried Gohmert’s use of a Latino icon in pursuing hard-line immigration policies and said Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) should instead consider a resolution set forth by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) honoring Chávez’s legacy.

Chávez has been criticized for using slurs to describe undocumented immigrants, but he also appealed to improving conditions for laborers south of the border as a means for protecting American workers.

“As long as we have a poor country bordering California, it’s going to be very difficult to win strikes,” Chávez said in 1972.

Chávez’s UFW co-founder, Dolores Huerta, says Chávez wasn’t against immigration, but prioritized worker’s rights to organize above all else.

“What Cesar would say is, ‘If my mother crossed the picket line, I’d be against my mother.’ He was against people breaking strikes. He wasn’t against the undocumented,” Huerta, a nationally recognized Hispanic civil rights and immigration advocate, told The Huffington Post in 2013.

“César Chávez shined a light on the injustices faced by farmworker families, very often risking his life to overcome the very racism and bigotry that Rep. Gohmert espouses,” said Lujan Grisham.

Tags Border control Chávez Immigration Louie Gohmert Michelle Lujan Grisham Paul Ryan Union

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