STUDIO CITY (CBSLA) — A Texas lawmaker is facing backlash after announcing a resolution to declare the birthday of one of most venerated Mexican-American leaders “National Border Control Day.”
Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert this week tweeted he had filed the resolution, which calls for Chicano civil rights and United Farmworkers of America co-founder Cesar Chavez’s birthday, March 31st, to be named in a manner that ostensibly praises border protection.
“Cesar Chavez was best known for his 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,” a statement from Gohmert read.
“In fact, it was his 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,” the statement goes on to say.
Immediately, the moved was decried by Latino leaders as offensive and misleading.
“For Rep. Gohmert to twist and warp the legacy of César Chávez is offensive, shameful and beyond the pale of normal logic,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) said in a statement.
“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,” the statement continues.
Speaking to La Opinión, Mr. Chavez’s assistant of nearly a quarter century called the resolution an insult and clarified Chavez’s position on undocumented immigration.
Marc Grossman told the paper that, yes, Cesar Chavez was opposed to the United States’ bracero program, which brought contracted, undocumented Mexican nationals into the country to work in agricultural fields for low wages during the 1940s. He suggests the purpose was to break up labor unions by providing cheaper wages, and that it was this facet of the program Chavez was against, not the workers themselves.
“In 1973, the (United Farmworkers) union was the first, long before other unions, to oppose a federal law that made it illegal to hire undocumented workers,” said Grossman.
He went on to say that Chavez’s views on immigration by undocumented people “evolved” as the years passed, but that the UFW “always accepted undocumented immigrant members” and fought for their rights.
Chavez has been criticized for using slurs such as “wetback” to refer to undocumented workers, but Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America with Chavez, echoes that he was not against undocumented people.
Huerta said in a 2013 interview that Chavez “was against people breaking strikes. He wasn’t against the undocumented,” The Hill reported.
Former CNN host Soledad O’Brien entered the social media pile-on Wednesday, tweeting at Gohmert, “You seem like a terrible person.”
The Hispanic Caucus, along with Latino leaders, have condemned Gohmert since his announcement.
Cesar Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona and passed away 66 in 1993, after having fought for farmworkers’ rights in California for decades.
His birthday, March 31st, is a state holiday in California, New Mexico, Utah, Wisconsin and his home state of Arizona. It is considered an optional holiday Colorado, Nevada and Texas.