One such article in the Washington Post stands out for what it omits. The story, a hard-hitting account of how Biden has decorated the Oval Office, mentions that Biden is “nodding to segments of the Democratic Party’s base via historic references,” and mentions a bust of Cesar Chavez behind the Resolute Desk.
Who was Cesar Chavez? If you ask a Democrat or a member of the press, they’ll tell you he was a courageous labor leader and civil rights activist who helped organize Latino farm workers in California in the 1960s, culminating in the formation of the United Farm Workers union. Today, he’s a folk hero to the left.
What they won’t tell you is that he was also a fierce opponent of illegal immigration, which he opposed because it drove down wages for American farm workers and diminished the organizing power of their unions.
He also opposed guest-workers from Mexico, and campaigned fiercely against the Bracero program, a guest-worker scheme put in place during World War II that allowed Mexican farm workers to enter the country legally for employment on American farms and ranches. Because there was a legal way to enter the country, work, and return to one’s family in Mexico on a seasonal basis, the Bracero program helped keep illegal immigration down.
But thanks in large part to pressure from Chavez and others on the union left, the Bracero program was shuttered in 1964. We haven’t had a guest worker program since.
But shutting down the braceros wasn’t enough. In the 1970s, illegal immigration was on the rise and Chavez decided to do something about it. He helped organize “wet lines” of union workers along the Arizona-Mexico border. Wet lines—a reference to “wetbacks,” a term Chavez freely used—were armed bands of union thugs that attacked Mexicans with barbed-wire-studded whips and bats when they tried to cross the border, beating and robbing them as a warning to other Mexican workers who dared defy the union.
As Chavez biographer Miriam Pawel wrote in her 2014 book, “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography,” wet lines were part of a larger “Illegals Campaign” to find and report illegal immigrant farm workers and get them deported. But because federal authorities were often not equipped or inclined to enforce immigration laws back then, Chavez took matters into his own hands.
He put his cousin, an ex-convict named Manuel Chavez, in charge of organizing wet lines. This was border vigilantism at its worst, and amounted to a kind of reign of terror on the border. The wet lines carried out hundreds of beatings and robberies. There were allegations of torture, including burnings and castration. Chavez knew about all this and condoned it. As Pawel noted, “Manuel was willing to do ‘the dirty work,’ Cesar acknowledged.”
It’s hard to imagine someone more virulently anti-immigrant than Cesar Chavez. So the question is, why does President Biden have a bust of this guy behind his desk? One thing is for sure: the corporate press will never, ever ask him about it.