Using the plight of undocumented immigrants and farmworkers to draw a stark contrast between a United States led by his wife or one led by billionaire Donald J. Trump, former President Bill Clinton made the case in a 20-minute address to an audience of about 3,000 at Rabobank Arena Sunday afternoon to close the United Farm Workers Constitutional Convention.
“She is for building bridges of opportunity, not walls,” said Clinton as he spoke from a prepared speech. “This election is about whether you believe we can grow together, live together. If you say ‘Yes we can’ (Sí se puede), Hillary is your candidate for president.”
Clinton praised the work of the UFW and farmworkers overall.
“You are the strength of America. I want to thank the farmworkers for many things,” said Clinton, who arrived 1½ late for his scheduled 2 p.m. appearance. “You inspire people. We are going to define America for a long time to come in this election.
“We are going to say to people around the world that people from different backgrounds and different faiths can live together, vote together and build a whole different future if everyone is treated equally and fairly.”
Hillary Clinton has built a large delegate lead over Democratic challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. However, Sanders has refused to concede the raise and has vowed to stay in the race until the final primary votes are cast. Clinton is hoping that a strong showing in California’s June 7 primary will cement her as the Democratic candidate to face Trump.
Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State who spoke at the UFW convention in Fresno in 2008 when she was facing Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, has been endorsed by the UFW and former UFW official Dolores Huerta.
Part of her strategy, shown thus far in campaign ads and speeches, is to show how Trump’s words attack the Latino community, an important source of votes for her candidacy.
The former president spoke comfortably and was greeted with applause during parts of his speech, especially when he said his wife would make sure that, within the first 100 days of her presidency, she would introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
“We need to vote with a trust in the future we can build together,” said Clinton.
State Senate leader vows to help farmworkers
Prior to Clinton’s speech, state Sen. Pro Tem Kevin De León –who once said there was nothing but “tumbleweeds” in the San Joaquin Valley – delivered a rousing speech in Spanish vowing to help farmworkers and other immigrants gain equality in pay and other benefits.
“Did you come here to seek public assistance?” asked De León.
“Did you come here to work?”
De León outlined legislation that has been passed that will help most farmworkers, including an expansion of Medi-Cal that will provide health care for undocumented children under 18 years of age.
“More than 170,000 undocumented youth under 18 will get medical care,” said De León, who spoke just after the lunch hour. “You deserve health care and respect!”
De León also said state lawmakers are working on legislation that will provide overtime pay for farmworkers.
“Earning $10 an hour, which is the minimum wage, is gaining $20,000 a year before taxes,” said De León.
That income, he said, is not benefitting in the world’s richest country. That amount, added De León, is not enough to pay for housing, clothing, food and other necessities.
“We are looking to pass legislation to pay overtime for farmworkers,” said De León to loud applause. “It’s not just that they work more than 80, 90 hours without overtime pay.
“Work in the fields is very dignified,” he said.
Rentería addresses convention
Amanda Rentería, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, also addressed the crowd.
Entering the stage to the song ‘Mujeres Valientes,’ Rentería preceded to speak in Spanish about how special the Central Valley is to her. She was born in Redbanks and graduated as the top student from Woodlake High School.
After earning degrees from Stanford and Harvard, Rentería eventually landed in Washington, D.C. where she became chief of staff for Michigan Sen. Debbie Stebenow.
It was while working there that Renteria said she realized the important role that farmworkers have.
“I remember sitting at lunch and seeing the fruits and vegetables coming up and saying ‘That reminds me of home,’” she said.
Her lunchmates would ask, “Oh, is your father a farmer?”
“With pride and love, my father and others picked what you are eating here today. I am the daughter of a farmworker,” said Renteria. “I’m the daughter of a community that wakes up before the sun to go pick the food you eat.”
Rentería emphasized the need for Latinos to get out and vote in the upcoming primary.
“There is no more important election for our community, for what we fight for, for what we do every day,” said Rentería. “It is time to show the country and the world we are a better place and better world” that what Trump has defined as the immigrant community.
Labor Secretary lobbies for Hillary Clinton
Labor Secretary Tom Pérez, speaking mostly in Spanish, said Trump is not about unifying the country.
“America is at its best when we celebrate our diversity,” said Pérez.
He praised Hillary Clinton for “being a dreamer and a doer.”
“She wants to create an opportunity, not construct walls,” said Pérez. “The only thing Trump wants is to build walls.”
Saturday: Governor fires up the convention
Gov. Jerry Brown fired up the crowd Saturday night.
“Tonight we have someone very special among us,” said UFW president Arturo Rodriguez in Spanish as he introduced Brown to the audience.
Brown spoke during a dinner to honor the service of farmworker leaders at union contract companies.
During his speech, Brown recalled meeting César Chávez in 1967 near Calexico, adding that from all the farm leaders Chávez was successful in organizing the farmers when many farm leaders tried before him and failed.
Brown said Chávez’s courage is that it is needed to organize America.
He said many states have passed laws that are very hostile for the rights of workers to organize.
Brown said the Republican-controlled Congress is “totally committed to weakening organized labor.”
“This war against workers will be lost totally if Mr. Trump ever gets elected. So we’ve got to make sure that it never happens.” Brown said, as the crowd cheered in agreement.
Brown added that in the list of potential Supreme Court nominees by Trump, “not one of the names that he listed so far is a friend of organized labor.”
“You have to have the law and the labor rights to protect your interest and your families,” Brown said. “In California, while things are not perfect, (the laws for farm workers) are better than in other states in the county.”
Brown said not only California has improve the minimum wage of workers, it has also provided health care for undocumented children living in the state.
Brown said “the leaders of Congress are one step above cave men” as those leaders don’t believe in climate change, labor rights, and don’t believe in the 11 million people who live in America undocumented.
“And then there’s Donald Trump,” Brown said as a chorus of boos could be hear in the arena. “He wants Mexico to build a wall. If Trump is elected — which he won’t be — I’ll build a wall to keep him out of California.”
Brown urged those in attendance to elect a president and a governor who understand what organized labor is, as well to put their strength together in solidarity to make things happen.
“Government can help but the most important thing is for workers to have the power to defend their own rights,” Brown said, making a big emphasis about the importance of the next presidential election and what is a stake, “your union, the environment, health care. So many things are at stake in this presidential election.”
He called for unity among democrats to win.
“One way or another, sí se puede,” Brown said.
Rodríguez said UFW has known Brown for 44 years and has worked with him in many different projects including an agricultural law that allows the union the right to organized in the state, law that was signed by Brown in 1975, during his first term as governor in California.
“Gov. Brown always has done what he thinks is the best for the farmworkers and we are grateful that he is with us today at this convention to honor all of you tonight,” Rodríguez said.
Brown received a replica of the union Aztec eagle after his speech.
After speaking at the UFW’s convention, Brown spoke to a group of reporters.
When asked about the state’s primary election coming up on June 7, Brown said “I don’t think anybody should be seeking the Democratic nomination with a scorched earth policy.”
“At the end of the day, we’ve all got to work together,” Brown told reporters. “It’s very important that we beat Donald Trump.”
Saturday: Kamala Harris addresses convention
California Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris talked education, economy, environment and equality Saturday afternoon as she addressed several hundred delegates attending the second full day of the United Farm Workers’ 20th Constitutional Convention at the Rabobank Convention Center in Bakersfield.
Harris entered the arena surrounded by women who were carrying UFW flags as those in attendance welcomed her with applauses and loud chanting of “Si se puede.”
“I am so honored to be here. This group of people, this leaders, this organization, has done such as extraordinary work for such a long time. I grew up as a child knowing that the work that happens here, in the United Farm Workers is the work of giving people a voice, given them dignity and fighting for the American dream and all its promises the people of this county,” Harris said. “The work of the United Farm Workers has always been about challenging our county to live up to its ideals.”
“Unfortunately the struggle continues,” Harris added. “But I look around at the leaders around this room and I know that they are prepared to do all that is necessary to make sure that the working men and women of our county, all working men and women will have a voice.”
Harris thanked Dolores Huerta for being “such an extraordinary friend, a role model to me and just family to me.”
Huerta did a 30-second Spanish campaign ad for Harris, in which she endorsed Harris for Senate.
Harris also thanked UFW Arturo S. Rodríguez for this “extraordinary leadership and inspiration.”
Harris talked about her background from growing up to running for public office as a woman of color and the reasons she is running for the U.S Senate to represent Californians at the federal level.
“When I look at some of the issues that challenge our country,” Harris said. “I think about these issues in the context of the work I has always done as a prosecutor.”
Harris said she thinks about those issues through the voice of the people.
“And I began to think about four issues that I would like to talk to you in particular,” Harris said, adding that she refers to those issues as the four Es – Education, the Economy, the Environment and Equality.
When it comes to the issue of education, Harris said across the state 40 percent of the truant children are elementary school children. She added that an elementary school truant child is four time more likely to dropout of high school. She said 82 percent of the prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts.
When it comes to the economy, Harris said that federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“That is less than $15,000 a year,” Harris said, adding that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, who are parents, trying to put food on the table every night and working two jobs.
Harris said there is not national commitment for paid family leave or national commitment for affordable childcare.
On the issue of environment, Harris said the climate change is real and as a country people need to get together on this issue and in particular diversify water policy in a way that puts equal resources into conservation, recycling, and storage of water and desalination.
When it comes to equality, Harris said the front and center civil rights issue of our times is the issue of immigration.
“We need to fix this problem,” Harris said, adding that some leaders talk about the issues of criminal justice policy and immigration policy as if they are the same thing.
“They are not. Criminal Justice policy is one matter with its own problems, immigration policy is a separate matter,” Harris said.
Harris said she has seen and prosecuted some of the worse criminals and that “an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal.”
Friday: Congressman makes case for immigration reform
There were sparks and passion coming from the mouth of Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ilinois, Friday night as he addressed several hundred delegates at the La Paz compound where César E. Chávez is buried.
“I didn’t spend three hours on a flight to get here because I love the airline food,” said Gutiérrez in Spanish, with occasional English sprinkled in. “I came here to pay tribute to the farmworkers!”
Gutiérrez, one of the staunchest backers of comprehensive immigration reform, said federal immigration judges will soon relax the 10-year rule on undocumented spouses who are married to a legal U.S. resident. He said the change was “one of 10 executive orders” that President Barack Obama made.
In the past, visas for that spouse were approved but the person had to go to his/her home country and wait 10 years before being allowed into the United States. Gutiérrez said pro-immigrant lawmakers convinced Obama that “extreme hardship” can include the consequences to the American-born children of that person.
Gutiérrez said 20 percent of people coming to his office for help on immigration matters are experiencing problems with the 10-year requirement, which was implemented in 1996.
“That’s about a million people at least that can benefit,” said Gutiérrez.
The change is due to a “re-prioritization” of immigration enforcement, he said.
He also said there has been a strong push against the Obama administration’s announced effort to deport Central Americans, and to provide lawyers for young children.
Why is Gutiérrez such a strong defender of undocumented immigrants when he and his parents, who were born in Puerto Rico, are U.S. citizens?
“In the island of Puerto Rico, my mom and my dad were dieing of hunger, and there was no work. So, they came to New York,” said Gutiérrez. “When they got there, they were branded as coming here to ask for public assistance, that they were criminals, and suspected of bringing tropical diseases.
“This story must not be repeated,” he said.
Gutiérrez made a case to support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her bid for president, and against Republican billionaire Donald J. Trump.
“When Donald Trump blasts Mexicans, he is talking about all of us,” said Gutiérrez, who is Puerto Rican. “He’s saying we are murderers, that we are drug traffickers.”
Clinton, he said, was one of only two Democratic U.S. Senators who voted for his comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2004.
Friday: Kerry Kennedy kicks off 4-day convention
Just over 600 farmworker supporters gathered in Bakersfield for the UFW’s 20th Constitutional Convention and Awards Dinner at Rabobank Arena.
Actor Martin Sheen, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and musician Little Joe Hernández celebrated keynote speaker Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
UFW President Arturo Rodríguez stressed the importance of farmworkers to attend the convention to receive vital information.
This gives them the opportunity to express their opinions, to express their voices and to show their unity," said Rodríguez.
Battling a viral infection that left her with a hoarse voice during her keynote address, Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization, was presented with the Excellence in Leadership Award.
“Margaret Mead said ‘Never doubt the capacity of a small group of determined people to change the world.’ Tonight we have a small group of people who are changing the world,” said Kennedy receiving a standing ovation.
She proudly raised the Leadership Award while standing at the podium next to Sheen, who made her introduction.
In her address, Kennedy hailed Chávez’s effort to bring attention to poor working conditions of farm workers. She recalled her father’s historical visit to Chávez.
"When my father came and broke bread with Cesar in 1968, he talked to 6,000 farm workers in Delano,” said Kennedy.
She also hailed UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta, who sat nearby, and the countless other supporters throughout the decades.
“Dolores Huerta, she’s a goddess, isn’t she?” said Kennedy.
Earlier in the day, Kennedy was in Keene paying her respects at the gravesite of Chávez at the National Chávez Center and César Chávez Monument in La Paz.