¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #157-33076

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #157-33076
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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.


This FBI file from the fall of 1974 documents incidents of violence and civil unrest in connection with United Farm Workers (UFW) demonstrations in Yuma, Arizona. In particular, many parts of the file cover UFW activities in opposition to the use of immigrant labor in the fields. César Chávez believed that non-restrictive immigration policies and such programs as the Bracero Program made migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation while undermining domestic workers.

On the first page of the file, in a memo dated September 16, the FBI's Phoenix office reported that more than two dozen members of the UFW were arrested on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace at a labor camp near Yuma. Subsequently, a group of 250 people gathered outside the Yuma County jail to protest the arrest. According to a source, the group had thought about holding a protest at the offices of the U.S. Border Patrol in Yuma over the "lack of arrest" by immigration officials of undocumented immigrants entering the United States.

A document dated September 10 discusses a UFW protest over the prices paid to immigrant lemon pickers. According to the FBI report, what started out as a peaceful two-week demonstration turned violent on September 9, when a large group numbering 2,500 individuals gathered in a citrus area outside of Yuma and used aggressive tactics to gain the support of workers in the field. Upon the arrival of law enforcement, one member of the group attempted to set a box of citrus crates on fire, and a deputy was reportedly disarmed and shot at with his own weapon.

In a memo dated October 8, the FBI reported on demonstrations in the Yuma area that involved isolated incidents of vandalism and arson. The document also states that the UFW set up a line at the U.S-Mexican border to detain undocumented individuals trying to cross into the United States. Later memos report on the alleged beating and abuse of the undocumented immigrants, which the FBI is unable to corroborate.

On October 30, the FBI reported that a large group of UFW members were planning a demonstration at the Yuma convention center, where Republican Party senator Barry Goldwater and congress member Sam Steiger were making an appearance. According to a source, the purpose of the demonstration was to gain political support for UFW activities in Yuma.
 

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