What better way for farm workers to mark Cesar Chavez's March 31 birthday than to march in the streets of their communities and lobby at their nation's capital for immigration reform? Cesar led farm workers beginning in the 1960s to nonviolently break the bonds of discrimination and poverty that plague them in the fields and where they live. Farm workers today honor his memory by battling to free themselves from the shackles of abuse and mistreatment they suffer as a direct result of their immigration status.
On the weekend before Cesar's birthday, now officially recognized as a holiday in 10 states, more than 5,000 California farm workers and supporters marched in Fresno while an equal number demonstrated in Salinas. Thousands more took to the streets of other California farming communities in Bakersfield, Oxnard, Santa Rosa and Coachella, and in Yakima, Washington. Many of them were in the congressional districts of key Republican members of the House of Representatives.
The majority of the farm workers were undocumented. They were boldly proclaiming the vital role they play in feeding all of America and much of the world. Without these workers American agriculture as we know it would collapse since U.S. citizens and legal residents have not been working in farm labor in any appreciable numbers for decades. Immigrant farm workers take the most difficult, dangerous and lowest paying jobs other American workers refuse to take.
Meanwhile, during April more than 150 farm workers and their families are lobbying lawmakers in Washington, D.C. for immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Among them are Dreamers, the children of immigrants brought to this country when they were little, young people who were granted relief from deportation by President Obama.
This is the largest contingent of field laborers ever to travel to their nation's capital. They hail from California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Florida, Ohio, Minnesota, North Carolina and New Jersey. Their lobbying on Capitol Hill is complimented by intense efforts in the home districts of congressional members, all organized by the United Farm Workers of America, UFW Foundation, the Cesar Chavez Foundation and its nine-station Radio Campesina Spanish-language educational radio network, sister farm worker unions in the Pacific Northwest, Florida and the East Coast, Farmworker Justice and the National Farm Worker Ministry.
The farm workers in Washington will visit with members of the House and Senate, joining other activists from labor, business, student, clergy and community organizations who are part of a broad coalition backing immigration reform. They will take part in a rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol sponsored by the Alliance for Citizenship, a national campaign of which the UFW is a part advocating citizenship for 11 million Americans-in-waiting as well as championing family unity, the fulfillment of American dreams and full and equal rights and fairness for all workers.
We have arrived at a critical juncture. This is the moment for our elected officials to move swiftly forward by creating a new immigration process in reality and not just preachment. It must be a genuine process that brings long-overdue recognition to these hard-working, tax-paying immigrants whose hard labor and sacrifice feed the people of our country and enable the survival of other important sectors of the U.S. economy.
Si Se Puede!