¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-66143

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-66143
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The primary source document described below, which can be viewed by clicking the thumbnail at right, is part of a 1,434-page file on César Chávez and the farmworker movement compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) between 1965 and 1973. The FBI's surveillance of Chávez, which paralleled larger efforts to prove that protest groups of the civil rights era had been infiltrated by subversive influences, was unable to uncover any evidence of communism or corruption in the activities of Chávez and his followers.

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 September 1975, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received documents related to the arrests of several individuals associated with the United Farm Workers (UFW) while participating in demonstrations in Texas. On July 23, UFW protesters picketed near melon fields in Reeves County to draw attention to their aims of unionization and were arrested for trespassing. Two days later, a sheriffs also arrested picketing UFW supporters and law students near melon fields in Pecos County on similar charges.

In a letter dated on July 25, 1975, the United Farm Workers/AFL-CIO wrote to the U.S. attorney general Edwin Levi in protest of the July 23 and 25 arrests. The UFW maintained that children had been among those temporarily imprisoned and that both protests had occurred on public property. They criticized the sheriffs of Reeves and Pecos counties for illegally "using their powers . . . to interfere with the farm workers' First Amendment rights."

On September 3, J. Stanley Pottinger, assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division, directed the FBI director to investigate the matter by obtaining the police reports, evaluating the charges against the defendants, and interviewing witnesses and arrested persons. Two days letter, the FBI director issued instructed the special agent in charge at El Paso, Texas, to conduct a limited investigation into the UFW complaint that individuals, including children, had been arrested and imprisoned for their picketing on allegedly public land. An November 3 airtel indicated that the special agent in charge had submitted a report regarding the arrests in Pecos and Reeves counties on September 16.

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