Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar introduced a resolution last week to designate the birthday of Cesar Chavez, March 31st, as “National Border Control Day.”
Many celebrate the birthday of Chavez, the iconic co-founder of the United Farm Workers union born to a Mexican American family, as a day to reflect on the dignity of agricultural workers and the contribution of Latinx immigrants to the United States.
But Gosar argues that Chavez’s legacy stands for something else entirely, according to a statement by the congressman.
“Cesar Chavez’s lifelong work to protect American workers should be echoed and celebrated throughout America,” Gosar said in his statement. “As open border Democrats continue to advocate against securing our southern border, it is critical to remember the damage illegal immigration does to legal American workers.”
The resolution argues that Chavez “recognized that flooding the labor market with people from abroad undermines the unionized American worker,” citing his calls for the boycott of non-unionized farms.
But the resolution has drawn rebuke from people who knew the labor leader as distorting his legacy, the Arizona Republic reported.
“No one championed immigrants earlier and more consistently than Cesar Chavez and the UFW,” longtime spokesman Marc Grossman told the paper. “But he did oppose strike-breaking by anybody, no matter who they were or what they came from, and that’s what the march was about.”
Gosar’s resolution followed a resolution introduced by Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., cosponsored by a few dozen Democrats, to designate March 31 “Cesar Chavez Day,” according to the Congressional Record.
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According to a website devoted to the idea of creating National Border Control Day, the resolution reflects a longtime priority by the Center for Immigration Studies, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with ties to the Trump administration. The organization includes a button to donate on the site.
“Despite the appropriation of his name by the anti-borders crowd, Cesar Chavez dedicated much of his life to fighting against illegal immigration, which growers used to suppress the wages of American farm workers,” a spokesman for the nonprofit said in a statement. “Chavez ran an ‘Illegals Campaign’ to identify and report illegal workers, and even sent his own family to patrol the border when he felt Border Patrol wouldn’t do the job.”
While the center describes itself as a think tank with the mission of “research and publication of immigration issues,” it has published misleading reports to support nativist tropes like the idea that immigrants rely on welfare at a greater rate than natives that the conservative Cato Institute characterized as comparing “apples to elephants.”
And while the resolution cheers Chavez’s union for drawing on “nonviolence and mass mobilization to improve the conditions of persecuted and impoverished American workers,” Gosar has rarely voted in favor of the interests of union workers, according to the AFL-CIO.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva accused Gosar of concern trolling by “attempting to revise history and corrupt the achievements of Cesar Chavez by attempting to paint him as a right-wing anti-immigrant hack,” the Arizona Republic reported.
“In his advocacy efforts to improve the working conditions and economic well-being of the vulnerable men and women who harvest the food for our constituents’ tables, Cesar Chavez is the complete opposite of the Republican Party and their current anti-immigrant, anti-worker views,” Grijalva said in a statement.
The resolution does not mark the first time Gosar has leveraged headline-grabbing tactics to push an anti-immigration stance.
The congressman last year asked Capitol Police and the Department of Justice to “consider checking identification” of everyone attending President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address and “arresting any illegal aliens in attendance.”
At least 27 lawmakers had invited Dreamers protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to be their guests for the address.
“It seems only appropriate to deem his birthday as ‘National Border Control Day – seeing that Chavez spent his life addressing the harmful effects that illegal migration might have on this country,” Gohmert 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 congresswoman said in a statement.
Correction 5:29 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the party affiliation of Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva.