- Worked for the United Farm Workers from 1965-1978
- Became internal executive vice president of the SEIU in 1996
- Advocates comprehensive immigration reform providing a path-to-citizenship for illegal aliens
- Served as advisor to President Barack Obama
- Became an honorary chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America in 2004
Born in Mexico in January 1946, Eliseo Medina participated in the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) celebrated grape strike which began in Delano, California in 1965. This first taste of union activism inspired Medina to pursue, under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky disciple Cesar Chavez and longtime socialist labor leader Dolores Huerta, a career as a union organizer and political strategist with UFW from 1965-78.
In 1986 Medina joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where, during a five-year period, he helped increase the membership of a local union in San Diego from 1,700 to more than 10,000. In 1996 he became SEIU’s international executive vice president, a post he held until 2010.
Over the years, Medina has cultivated numerous close ties with socialist and radical causes. For example:
- In early 1971 he spoke at a Chicago event which was held in support of a Communist Party USA (CPUSA) front group called The Committee to Free Angela Davis.1
- On November 18, 2001, Medina was the keynote speaker at a Berkeley, California banquet held by the CPUSA publication People’s Weekly World. In 2007 he proudly endorsed this same publication.
- In 2001 he publicly thanked the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for having essentially “adopted” him in Chicago when he was a “scared kid” 35 years earlier.
- In 2004 he was named an honorary DSA chair, a status he shared with the likes of Barbara Ehrenreich, Dolores Huerta, Frances Fox Piven, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West.
- Also in 2004, Medina received Chicago DSA’s Eugene Debs/Norman Thomas/Michael Harrington Award—named in honor of three prominent American socialists—for his many years of social activism.
- On November 11, 2011 in Washington, DC, Medina spoke at a DSA-sponsored event titled “Equality and Jobs for the 99%: Economic Justice for All,” along with John Conyers and several other leftists from the fields of politics, labor, and the media.
- In the Winter 2011/2012 edition of Democratic Left magazine, Medina and a handful of fellow left-wing activists placed an ad praising DSA.
Since the turn of the 21st century, Medina has developed a reputation as a staunch supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. In 2000, for instance, he was able to persuade the AFL-CIO—of which his SEIU was a member—to reverse its longstanding policy against illegal immigration and the hiring of illegals. Three years later he helped organize the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition. And in recent times he has advocated a path-to-citizenship for illegal aliens living in the United States, on the theory that it is vital “to get undocumented immigrants out of the underground economy, into the system and on an equal playing field with all workers.”
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Medina served on candidate Barack Obama’s National Latino Advisory Council, along with such notables as Democratic Representatives Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Hilda Solis, and Nydia Velazquez. After Obama’s election victory in November 2008, Medina became an advisor to the new administration.
In April 2009 Medina testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, arguing to “allow millions of undocumented workers to come out of the shadows, relieving them of the fear of arrest and deportation and of leaving behind their families and dreams.” At a June 2, 2009 “America’s Future Now!” conference hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future, Medina revealed the underlying political motivations for his passionate immigration activism:
“[If] we reform the immigration laws, it puts 12 million people on the path to citizenship and eventually voters. [In 2008] … Barack Obama got two out of every three [Latino] voters that showed up…. Can you imagine 8 million new [Latino] voters who care about our issues and will be voting? We will be creating a governing coalition for the long term, not just for an election cycle.”
In 2010 Medina condemned SB-1070, a newly passed Arizona law deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of criminal suspects whose behavior or circumstances seemed to indicate that they might be in the United States illegally.
That same year, Medina was unanimously elected to serve as SEIU’s international secretary-treasurer.
In 2010 and 2011, Medina spoke at Netroots Nation‘s annual national conferences.