Farm Workers Resist Trump’s Policies

President Trump is touting his aggressive approach toward removing undocumented workers from the U.S. as one of his first-100-days achievements, but resistance is growing, too, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

President Trump’s promised purge of undocumented people from the United States is facing resistance from the United Farm Workers (UFW) and other groups in California that reject this rollback of civil rights and workers’ rights.

On March 31, the birthday of the late founder of the UFW, Cesar Chavez, the union kicked off a month-long series of activities to fight back against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, which many analysts believe is designed to make life so miserable and difficult in the U.S. that people begin to “self-deport in” in large numbers.

Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers

I spoke to Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers, on March 31 about Cesar Chavez’s contributions to the Farm Labor Movement and the effects of ICE raids on communities in California and around the country.

Dennis Bernstein: We know that there’s a great deal of work ahead of you. We are in the age of Trump. And this possesses interesting and multiple challenges. And I know that the farmworkers are up for that and there are many plans being made. But I really would like to take a moment for you to remind us about Cesar Chavez. Tell us about who the man was, and the significance of the work, because obviously it’s going to continue to resonate. And we’re going to talk about that in a moment. But, please let’s remember him, for the moment.

Arturo Rodriguez: Cesar Chavez, he was like anyone else, he was determined, he devoted his whole life towards working on behalf of the poorest of the poor of the farmworkers. He, himself, his family, they all were a part of the migrant farmworkers stream throughout the state of California, and other areas as well, the state of Oregon, and so forth.

He realized at a very young age that he did not want to continue to see people mistreated, and abused, and exploited, and have to go through what his family did, and what his mom and dad did, and his brothers and sisters. So he made a decision early on in his life that someday he wanted to tackle that, and to do the best that he could do and make a contribution towards bettering the life and the respect and dignity for the women and the men that harvest our fruits and vegetables, Dennis.

DB: And so, here it is, 2017, Trump is clearly… he is like the classical white supremacist. Not only is he that in theory, but […] when it comes to imposing the kind of policies that reflect his racism, he hasn’t wasted any time. So, could you just talk a little bit about what’s been happening in the trenches with the United Farm Workers? How you all have been acting, preparing, planning, and fighting back?

AR: Well, Dennis, it’s a very good question, and we’re extremely disappointed, in terms of what the Trump administration has done, and the decisions that they’ve been making, and the way that they call out immigrants in this country and make them feel like they’re not here to make a contribution, which is just the opposite. We would not be the nation we are today without the hard work, and the sacrifice, and the contribution that immigrant workers make to our nation.

And so, we have been, along with all of our sister organizations, the Cesar Chavez Foundation, the UFW Foundation and other organizations, have been doing everything we can to, first of all, ensure and educate workers, farmworkers, throughout various states, what their rights are as immigrants, what their opportunities are, how they can defend themselves.

And we’ve set up a special organization, the UFW Foundation, which has a number of offices throughout the state of California, right now, and Arizona, to go out and to be available, to have representatives that are certified by the federal government, in order to deal with issues around immigration. And we’ve been working with networks of attorneys throughout all the various rural communities, to ensure that, in the event that farmworkers are picked up, or anyone, any immigrant is picked up in the rural communities, that they can immediately contact us, and we can get in touch with attorneys to be able to assist them. And to provide them the guidance that they need, and the reassurance. And get in touch with their families and help them go through the process. And, hopefully, avoid them being sent across the border. And so, that’s been a major part of our work these last few months.

But, in addition to that, we know, at the same time we need to bring people together, Dennis. And, we need to continue to demonstrate to the federal government, to demonstrate to the Trump administration, that we are continuing the fight, to make sure that farmworkers, that immigrants are protected in this nation. And so, we decided to celebrate the anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s birthday with a series of events.

And we’re […] coordinating activities in seven different states: Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. To get people engaged, to get people participating, and making sure that, again, everybody is aware what their rights are, but demonstrate the unity that exists with us.

And we’re bringing together our sisters and brothers from the Muslim community, and many of the other immigrant communities, so that we can all act united, especially throughout these rural communities which, oftentimes, they’re not taken into account because of all the activities that take place in our urban centers. But it’s very, very important for us to do that.

[…]

We want to send a strong message to Donald Trump that we are here to stay. That we make a contribution to America, and that’s why we came here to begin with, as immigrants, as farmworkers, to be able to ensure that we have a viable agricultural industry that continues to dominate the world in the production of fruits and vegetables, throughout our nation, and throughout our state.

ICE officers during the second national wave of Operation Cross Check, an effort by ICE to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records. September 28, 2011. (Wikipedia)

DB: Now, it’s really important that we come to you to make sure we keep a human face on this story. And we know in your position as head, President of the United Farm Workers a lot of stories are coming through your desk. And can you just share a couple of stories that can help the people who aren’t experiencing this understand how dangerous it feels now? And the kinds of pressures–it’s sort of this pressure, it’s this policy of “brutalize them so much, hit them so hard, come at them from so many different directions, that they will, as they like to say ‘self deport’.” You want to just keep that human face on it, for a moment?

AR: Sure, of course, Dennis. I think about, right now, in terms of what happened in McFarland, California, it’s about three weeks ago now. Where workers were going to work, early in the morning, and they noticed that there was a car that was parked along the side. And it wasn’t marked. And the next thing they know that they were being stopped and it turned out to be ICE agents. And there was four individuals there in the car. And, as a result, the ICE agents asked them all for their papers, and whether they had legal status here in the country or not. And immediately, obviously the workers… no
matter how much you try to share with them the importance of not saying anything, it’s a difficult situation when somebody approaches you with a gun, and you don’t know exactly what to do. And you feel the intimidation and the coercion, and a sense of fear there. And so, they were very honest and upfront with the ICE agents.

And, as a result of that, before we knew it, within 24 hours, two of them had already been deported to Nogales, Mexico. And so we never got a chance to really help those individuals, but we were successful in helping two other folks.

And we’ve set up in Kern County, the third largest agricultural county in the United States today. And that’s where Bakersfield is at, Dennis, and McFarland, and Delano, and many of the other rural communities are, and Lamont and so forth. And so, we’re working there with a network of attorneys, and they have a group of about twenty attorneys that are there helping and assisting anybody that needs legal help. And they’re going out and doing these information sessions across the county, to really remind people, in terms of what’s happening. But, again, that was an incident that just recently happened.

We have another situation in Delano, California, where a worker was taking his daughter to school one morning and, again, an ICE agent stopped him on the way and asked him for his papers and so, immediately, he had to call someone to pick up his daughter, because they were going to take him in. And as a result, again, we had to step in and assist that particular worker in regards to the situation he was confronted with there, with the ICE agents.

DB: How old was his daughter?

AR: She was in the elementary school, so about nine, ten, at that age.

DB: There’s an experience, right?

AR: It’s a very, very scary situation. And we constantly hear people telling us, “Look, we don’t want to go out. We’re fearful about going any place other [than] work.” And so, folks are making other arrangements, for their children to be picked up from school, or from babysitters. They’re not going shopping like they used to anymore. There are a lot of things that they are staying away from, Dennis, because of the fact that there’s that fear there right now that exists. And, the life in these communities, especially in these rural areas where farmworkers live and work at, it’s just completely different from what it used to be, prior to the Donald Trump administration.

DB: Now, in terms of the formal actions, what is the California Legislature doing? I know there’s a number of actions happening, in terms of legal representation for undocumented folks, all kinds of things around standing up against any kind of registry. Have you weighed-in on some of this stuff? Do you think there needs to be expanded legal support for the workers that you represent, and for the undocumented folks who are facing this head on, now?

AR: [California] Senate President Kevin de Leon, and so many of the other, good Latino legislators, and others as well, are very empathetic as to what is happening out here to immigrants. They’re fighting hard. They’re trying to do everything they can, within their power, within the state of California. As we all know, though, the unfortunate thing is that immigration is a federal issue, and so we can’t do anything to really deal with the core issue, and that’s bringing about immigration reform. But, certainly there’s a lot of efforts being made to enhance the amount of legal representation that’s available for immigrants in the event they’re picked up by ICE agents.

And, as you well know, Dennis, there’s a big fight against the federal government, against the Trump administration, regarding their action on sanctuary cities. And there’s at least discussion in terms of, why don’t we make the State of California a sanctuary state because of the large number of immigrants that are here, both in our rural and urban communities. And the importance they are for the economy of this state, especially within the agricultural industry, and the retail industry, the hotel industry, construction, yard maintenance, and things of that nature.

Immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles, California on May Day, 2006. (Wikipedia)

So we’re definitely working alongside legislators in any way we possibly can to bring testimony and bring, like you said, a living face to what’s happening out there to folks. And trying to ensure that people really do understand the importance of this. This is just not something we can, kind of, sweep under the rug, or something we can ignore because it impacts the lives of people that are very, very important to our society.

DB: And, will Trump’s policies, in terms of trade, and the border and his quest to hire American, is that already beginning to reverberate? How do you see that?

AR: Oh, definitely. I mean, there’s no doubt. The workers that go back to Mexico, for whatever reason, for family reasons, or whatever. They’re not coming back anymore, those workers that work in agriculture. And so, we see definitely that in the agricultural market that, because of that, growers are finally being forced to deal with some of the issues that they should have dealt with a long time ago. And that’s it. They’re having to raise wages, they’re having to provide some better opportunities for workers, in regards to the working conditions or regards to hours of work, or their wage rates, and things of that nature. I think, yes, it is having an impact.

And it’s having a very negative impact on the flow of immigrants here into the United States, which are definitely needed for our agricultural industry. That just no longer is occurring, Dennis. And I think it’s very much of a tragedy for the American consumer because we’ve found, time and again, no matter what we do, that very few Americans, if any, actually want to go to work in the fields, in the agricultural fields, and be a part of that. And they’re not professionals at it, they’re not skilled at it, and they’re not willing to tolerate the difficult conditions and make the necessary sacrifices, and so forth.

DB: Alright, well we really want to thank you, Arturo Rodriguez, for taking the time out, again, to speak with us, and celebrate Cesar Chavez’s life, his birthday. We miss him, it’s been 24 years since his passing, but I know that the United Farm Workers, as we talked about, is not going to forget about it. And people can go to the United Farm Workers web site […] to follow all these activities, to get involved.

AR: I do want to mention one story. This is happening in an urban community, right in your audience’s area, your listenership’s area, in San Jose. And there is a family there that, I won’t mention the names of them cause I don’t want to embarrass them, but it was so great to go on our apps today and look at, and see one of the stories on Facebook actually, that’s being shared by a family that has their children making sandwiches to take out to the farmworkers there in the field. And what a way to celebrate the day of Cesar Chavez, for children to be doing something like that. And I thought if we could just communicate that to children throughout the state, what a blessing that would be for farmworkers obviously because they’re getting food. But also it brings to light the importance, the role the farmworker plays in our society.

And I just thought that was such a heartwarming story. That the parents of the three children, cause I know the family, and they do this on their own. And they’re not looking for recognition, they’re not looking to be recognized in any particular way. But this is the way that they’re bringing up their children, so that their children really understand the contribution that farmworkers make to our society.

And that today is the day that we celebrate Cesar Chavez’s birthday, it’s a day to celebrate the work that farmworkers do in this state, in California, and throughout the country. And so, we want to really thank the family that really has that practice, and I just think it’s such a great example, for what all of us could be doing with our children on this day.

DB: And it’s poignant, of course, because we have heard too many stories of farmworkers who pick the foods that make the table so beautiful and appealing, and can’t even afford to buy them. So there’s a lot to think about there. Again, we thank you, Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers, for being with us on this celebration, this birthday of Cesar Chavez, March 31st. Thanks for being with us. Be careful. We’ll talk to you soon.

AR: Thank you very much. We appreciate the opportunity to be with you all and thank you for all the good work that you all do in terms of educating and informing your listeners and readers.. We very much appreciate it. Si se puede, and happy Cesar Chavez day.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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11 comments for “Farm Workers Resist Trump’s Policies

  1. Bill Bodden
    April 19, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    It appears Robert Parry’s article on Hillary Clinton has drawn the usual commenters there. If they ever drift away from that chance to vent their spleen against the Queen of Chaos they might do well to consider three points related to immigration:

    1) Many of the immigrants from Central America might be better characterized as refugees from countries that had been made uninhabitable or nearly so because, at least in part, of destructive policies destructive practices of the U.S. government and its corporate sponsors. This suggest a moral responsibility that the people and government of the United States are inclined to shun.

    2) To what extent do immigrants/refugees displace workers in our lower economic strata?

    3) There must be few experiences more galling than for workers, mainly high-tech, who have to train imported HB1-visa immigrants who will displace them because they will work for less.

    • dhinds
      April 19, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      Part of your comment is relevant in that 90% of the farm workers in the Western USA are undocumented and the vast majority of them are from Mexico.

      California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Colorado and Texas all formed part of Mexico until S. Carolina born President James Polk decided to invade that country in order to establish additional states open to slavery.

      NAFTA and US influence in the IMF and the World Bank helped gut Mexico’s social safety net, so many must face the risks found in the USA under President Trump or whoever else it may be to get by and pay their debts.

      Temporary Agricultural Workers are H-2A but that is largely dysfunctional since by the time the permits have approved the crops have usually rotted in the field and in any case, benefit for-profit contract labor exploiters more than farm workers.

      The USA has a huge and unrecognized historical debt with Mexican labor resources and without it, few fresh (or even canned or frozen) foods would be available.

      I doubt that Donald Trump would hold up for even an hour, picking lettuce. (His son in law might last a couple of hours).

    • evelync
      April 21, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      you may be l glad to see that here’s at least one venting drifter….

      It was an eye opener for me 25 years ago to have been living here in Houston across the street in a central mixed use neighborhood from an old engineering firm that went out of business. I watched their lot cleared and 19 2- story houses erected with barely 3 feet separating each one by a local developer. Each day I looked out the window seeing Spanish speaking immigrants scampering about on the roofs in the brutal heat of Houston at maybe $10.00/hr? and the finished product sold for around $300,000.00. Taxable valuation now up to $700,000+ now. It hit me at the time that the wealth of Houston has been built on the backs of immigrants.
      Later I learned from an immigrant working for an architect I know that in his Latino neighborhood the police cars hang around and ticket infractions for the Houston court system knowing that people there are afraid of the law, afraid of being deported and are easy marks. He also told me that immigrants waiting on street corners to be picked – if they’re lucky – for jobs on construction sometimes at the whim of the contractor don’t get paid.
      As I said this was 25 years ago. I don;t know if institutional changes have improved for these people. I do remember Romney was asked whether the landscaper he uses employs undocumented workers – some people use the term illegal immigrants.

      RE: 1, 2, 3 above

      1. Yes, indeed, Refugees from horror….
      And it takes me back to the enabler of enablers, the Queen of Chaos and the Obama administration and the 2009 Honduran Coup for enabling that coup and the vicious assault on women that followed and the murders of indigenous activists like Bertha Caceras in 2016 who singled Clinton out for responsibility:

      “Cáceres singled out Hillary Clinton for her involvement in the Honduran coup:

      “The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community—officials, the government, the grand majority—accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.”[34]”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berta_Cáceres

      Had Clinton and Obama declared the “illegal” (as determined in leaked state dept memos) coup a COUP, by U.S. law that would have ended military aide and stopped the coup in its tracks.

      re 2 and 3
      fair points.

      Had the Queen of Chaos been really worth her salt she would have had the courage to buck the hypocrisy and the lies that keep the immigration crisis going while enriching those with the Capital to prey on them and would have proposed an immigration plan that took into consideration the reality of millions of hard working and suffering people here in the U.S. and those cruelly impacted by the “abuse” perpetrated under cover of the Monroe Doctrine.

  2. April 19, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Very good points, Bill, and I have noted that migrant workers articles seem to draw fewer comments than articles relating to war on terror or allied topics. Central and South America are very neglected as areas that have long suffered from US exploitation, causing many people to flee violence resulting from US-CIA regime change.

    I have spent a number of winters in the Yuma, Arizona area, where you see migrant workers out in the fields and in the small city; also worked in Tucson with Mexicans. They do dirty, back-breaking work. The Hispanics are kind, generous, family-oriented people. They work very hard for their little pay. It is a shame that the migrant issue has gotten mixed up with the “terrorist” issue. Trump with his privileged, plutocratic background, is clueless to understand the differences between the migrant Mexicans, many of who came here because of NAFTA’s bad effects, and the refugees from ME wars.

    A friend of mine who lived in California said that when Cesar Chavez died, people in support came to his funeral in the desert and cars lined up for miles to pay tribute. He never earned above $6,500 annually his entire life, and he worked tirelessly to get a better break for his fellow migrants.

    • Bill Bodden
      April 19, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      The Hispanics are kind, generous, family-oriented people.

      That is one reason I consider most of them refugees. I’m sure that all but very few would stay home if it weren’t for their home countries being destroyed.

      “Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Gallegos is a must read for anyone interested in the exploitation of Central and Southern America by the U.S. and Europeans powers. I was shocked when I read it and discovered how barbaric the intruders were. Our Deep South was like a Club Med compared with Latin America.

  3. ranney
    April 19, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    This was a sweet article about sweet latino farm workers doing jobs that no one else wants to do. I have undocumented friends who are honest, hardworking and very productive for their employers. Every time I hear about Trump’s racist policies I have to surpress my apoplectic reactions. But this article makes me twitch; largely because it seems to not understand the potential power these workers have (and that Chavez understood). Maybe I’m wrong but I think if the agriculture workers, the ones who hoe and tend and pick all the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy in our supermarkets, if they went on strike for just two weeks (or even one) during harvest time the country would wake up. Do you think the large business conglomerates who make billions off the backs of these laborers would not notice that the workers they count on are no longer there? Would they not lean on Trump and tell him to stop? It is necessary for good hearted people to understand that the world is run by profit, and only profit will make the difference. I wish that were not so, I think we can change that eventually, but right now the ONLY thing that matters is profit. The minute you take money away from the corporations they wake up and start to take action. Appealing to empathy and good heartedness will always fail in today’s economy. The answer is to strike, and strike hard and often. The laborers have the power if they stick together. Will they?

    • Bill Bodden
      April 19, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      The answer is to strike, and strike hard and often. The laborers have the power if they stick together. Will they?

      Boycotts would also help, but most Americans will be disinclined to suffer inconveniences on behalf of these “others.”

  4. April 19, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    It has become a lot harder for migrant workers to strike than in the days of Chavez, the cost of living is so high. The employers can always get somebody else, there is always another desperate worker. I agree, though, that there should be an organized effort and must be supported by We the People.

  5. April 19, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    i have read that Chavez did not approve of undocumented workers because they were detrimental to the union movement. while many immigrants are fleeing USA neocolonialism, from my anectdotal experience the vast majority are economic migrants who are improving their propeties in Mexico.

  6. April 19, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Things have changed, though, since the days of Chavez, and tactics have to be adapted to the strange circumstances we are in now. Even to get Trump to see that you can’t lump all immigrants together would be a step. And Americans seem so focused on their own worries that they might not be as supportive as in the days of Chavez. Those days people were very supportive of the farm workers, it was a big cause, activists were everywhere, and we supported the boycotts.

    Bill, thank you, I will look for that book. Most of us who have worked with people from Latin American countries have no idea what these people have been through at the instigation of the colonial powers.

  7. Ragnar Ragnarsson
    April 22, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Immigration (from Wikipedia)

    The UFW during Chavez’s tenure was committed to restricting immigration. Chavez and Dolores Huerta, cofounder and president of the UFW, fought the Bracero Program that existed from 1942 to 1964. Their opposition stemmed from their belief that the program undermined U.S. workers and exploited the migrant workers. Since the Bracero Program ensured a constant supply of cheap immigrant labor for growers, immigrants could not protest any infringement of their rights, lest they be fired and replaced. Their efforts contributed to Congress ending the Bracero Program in 1964. In 1973, the UFW was one of the first labor unions to oppose proposed employer sanctions that would have prohibited hiring illegal immigrants. Later during the 1980s, while Chavez was still working alongside Huerta, he was key in getting the amnesty provisions into the 1986 federal immigration act.[18]

    On a few occasions, concerns that illegal immigrant labor would undermine UFW strike campaigns led to a number of controversial events, which the UFW describes as anti-strikebreaking events, but which have also been interpreted as being anti-immigrant. In 1969, Chavez and members of the UFW marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys to the border of Mexico to protest growers’ use of illegal immigrants as strikebreakers. Joining him on the march were Reverend Ralph Abernathy and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale.[19] In its early years, the UFW and Chavez went so far as to report illegal immigrants who served as strikebreaking replacement workers (as well as those who refused to unionize) to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.[20][21][22][23][24]

    In 1973, the United Farm Workers set up a “wet line” along the United States-Mexico border to prevent Mexican immigrants from entering the United States illegally and potentially undermining the UFW’s unionization efforts.[25] During one such event, in which Chavez was not involved, some UFW members, under the guidance of Chavez’s cousin Manuel, physically attacked the strikebreakers after peaceful attempts to persuade them not to cross the border failed.[26][27][28]

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