On Cesar Chavez Vote, Senate Misses Opportunity to Connect With Latinos

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It should not be difficult to pass a resolution through the Senate honoring legendary labor movement icon Cesar Chavez, whose birthday was earlier this week. Chavez’s life is the subject of a new feature film, and with all the positive media attention the film has spurred, it seemed like the perfect time for the Senate to approve the resolution backed by Sen. Bob Menendez (DN.J.). But it did not.

The reasons for the bill’s failure only further highlight just how out of touch some members of Congress are with the Latino community. Rather than showing support for an American hero, Sen. David Vitter (RLa.) opted to play politics instead by objecting to Senator Menendez’s resolution unless it included an amendment saying Chavez supported secure borders and enforcing immigration laws. A cynical move, at best, it underscores the kind of vitriol that has come to characterize the immigration debate in Congress.

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Buzzfeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo has more:

Menendez, who has introduced the resolution eight years running, requested live unanimous consent for the commemorative resolution because in the past it has been blocked without a way of knowing who did so.

“If Republicans are going to object yet again—for an eighth year in a row—to honoring this great American hero, I want it to be on the record,” Menendez said on the floor.

He noted in his prepared remarks that Republicans passed a resolution honoring World Plumbing Day by unanimous consent, “but INSIST on standing in the way of honoring a civil rights trailblazer who changed the course of our nation’s history,” he wrote.

In anti-immigrant circles, Chavez’s immigration position is a popular talking point. And while some of his opinions may have raised questions, the reality is that he supported the immigration reform law President Reagan signed in 1986. It is ludicrous to suggest that a man who worked for the Latino community until his death would be standing on the side of Sen. Vitter, and the rest of the anti-immigrant movement.

But, here’s the thing: none of this has anything do with honoring a true American hero.

farmworker onions2Chavez advocated for the poor, for the exploited, for the common man who had little in the way of power or representation. His dedication and commitment to his community manifested as one of the greatest labor movements our country has ever seen. For the first time, under Chavez’s leadership, farmworkers had the courage to stand up to powerful growers and demand more humane working conditions. Generations of Americans can thank Chavez for the worker protections now in place. These are the aspects of the man’s life that warrant a Senate resolution honoring his legacy, not ill-informed ideas about his views on immigration. In choosing to denigrate this resolution to ensure its demise, Sen. Vitter, and those who supported his amendment, missed an opportunity to connect with the millions of Latinos who see Chavez as the embodiment of what it means to be a great American.

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