, an aoney and pincipalof robes Popieaies, Inc., in New YokCiy, is co-chai of
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Edioial Boad. He is a membe of heExecuie Commiee of he LawyesConfeence. He can be eached email@example.com.
People had to walk over a mile to thepost office. When I was still in grammarschool, between 10 and 12 or so, the sonof a grower built a house nearby, and theydelivered mail to him. So I asked the post-master if deliveries could be extended justa couple of blocks to us, too. She said thatit wasn’t her business and gave me theaddress of the U.S. Postmaster Generalin Washington, D.C. I got all the adultsin the barrio to sign a petition. I couldtell they thought nothing would happen,but a month later I received a typed let-ter addressed to “Mr. Cruz Reynoso,” anddeliveries began after that. When I triedto thank the postmaster, who I thoughthad arranged this, she gave me a very icyreception. I figured later that she prob-ably thought I had complained about her,which I hadn’t.I had five brothers and five sisters,but they reacted very differently; nonewere troublemakers like I was. I decidedto go on to college at a very young age.Don’t know exactly why. In the segre-gated school I attended, I had alwaystried to be in the middle—not gettingsuch bad grades that the kids wouldharass me but also not getting such goodones that the other kids would dislikeme either. But then, around the fifthgrade, I somehow got to reading booksand started doing very well. Maybe thecollege-educated Latino teacher we hadone year influenced me; he would havebeen a role model. I learned to work hard,like my dad, who always told me that itdidn’t matter what I did as long as it washonorable. So those teachings got me tothink about the future. I remember, afterI became a lawyer, I thought, “they’re pay-ing me to do what I used to do for free!”
What made it possible for you to navi-gate so successfully CRLA through thepolitical shark waters of its early life?
The dominant reason was that webelieved the War on Poverty and legal ser-vices were very, very important. Secondly,the charges against us were so ill-foundedthat we thought we could successfullyfight them. We heard that many of thepeople around Nixon agreed with us andknew there was no basis for the chargesReagan was making. A few months beforethe Reagan veto, a high-level commissionstudied us and concluded that we weredoing a good job. Then came Reagan withall these preposterous charges. For exam-ple, they accused us of helping prisonersriot. We couldn’t understand this. Theonly connection we could find was a casewe won allowing prisoners to receive mailfrom their lawyers without inspection bythe prison authorities. Thirdly, unsurethat we could fight a popular governor, wemade plans to continue CRLA privately,with some lawyers doing fee-based work tosupport the enterprise. I had been success-ful as a private attorney and could alwaysgo back to that. It wasn’t in my nature tobe intimidated.
How would you change your approachtoday?
CRLA’s director José Padilla is doing afine job; I would do what he does. CRLAis still under the government gun. Evenwhen they win cases, the losers get mem-bers of Congress or the Legal ServicesCorporation involved. We fought hardfor the Legal Services Corp., thinking itwould insulate CRLA from politics, but ithasn’t worked out that way. I think Obamawas mistaken to let the Republicansappoint several members of the LegalServices Corp. board. I don’t know why hedid it; perhaps he was hoping to work withthem. But the Republican appointees arecompletely opposed to the entire conceptof legal services, so now CRLA is alwaysfighting the administration, so to speak.Actually, if CRLA were
under thegun, I would worry.
You said that although CRLA succeededin getting many important changes andbenefits for farm workers, much remainsto be done. What?
Farm workers need all the possible govern-ment protections against pesticides andother dangerous or unhealthy workingconditions. They need to organize again,like the way construction workers usedto be organized. My brother used to be aconstruction laborer, and now he has apension. If unskilled construction laborerscan have a union, why not farm workers? Ithink unions created the middle class afterWWII. You have to have power to changethings. During the bracero program, therewas a requirement that farm workers work90 percent of the time. So the growersorganized moving them around to meetthat requirement. Later, Chavez and I wereat first opposed to the use of undocument-ed workers, but we eventually concludedthat instead of keeping them out, weshould organize them.
What immigration policy would yourecommend?
There are short-, intermediate-, and long-term answers. In the long run, whichnobody is talking about in Washington,we should work with Mexico and theCentral American countries to improveeconomic conditions there. We did it inEurope with the Marshall Plan, and theEU did it for Spain. If we used the moneywe’re spending on the drug wars, perhapswe could succeed. Also, some of our poli-cies are counterproductive. For instance,by subsidizing corn that we sell in Mexico,we drove about a million small corn farm-ers and their families off the land. Manycame here. The undocumented are inmany ways quite noble people who havesuffered to help their families.In the medium term, we should adjustimmigration quotas and policies basedon what we actually need so we get theright number coming in. Ninety percentof the farm workers in California areundocumented. Clearly, we need to bring
Published in The Judges' Journal, Volume 51, Number 3, Summer 2012. © 2012 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.