The FBI's dossier on Chávez was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which contains provisions that allowed the FBI to withhold portions of the documents from public view. Indeed, many parts—and in some cases, entire pages—have been excised from the files. Nevertheless, the collection provides a compelling window into the efforts of the farmworker movement, as well as the values and methods of the FBI itself.
In early 1975, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) field office in Phoenix, Arizona, monitored allegations of violence aimed at farm workers on strike in Yuma, Arizona. Beginning in August 1974, migrant laborers and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) participated in a strike against lemon grove owners in order to gain higher wages and union recognition. To minimize their losses during the nine-month demonstrations, the growers brought strikebreakers that were under protection by local law enforcement, a move that was strongly criticized by UFW president César Chávez.
In a January 14, 1975, memo, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division J. Stanley Pottinger informed the FBI director that the UFW had filed a civil suit that claimed striking laborers had been the victim of brutality. Pottinger asked the bureau to investigate the complaints and to monitor local developments related to the case. All references to the specific details of the complaint had been redacted and references to newspaper articles describing the allegations had been obscured.
On February 3, the Phoenix field office issued a teletype that described a January 31 news conference in which Chávez stated that "documented evidence" supported UFW claims of violence against picketers and criticized the Yuma County courts as being "ruled by politics."
At the request of Pottinger on March 13, the FBI conducted a limited investigation into the UFW complaint and legal proceedings. However, according to notes dated March 24, the FBI's request to interview individuals related to the case was rejected by UFW lawyer James Rutkowski, who stated that such meetings would "heat up the situation" that had already "calmed down." Subsequent notes by the Phoenix field office contain brief descriptions of court decisions, but copies of court documents have been excluded from the FBI files.