Businesses across U.S. close, students skip school on ‘Day Without Immigrants’
Across the nation, thousands of protesters took part in “Day Without Immigrants” events, from marching to boycotting jobs to keeping kids out of school in the hopes of underscoring how migrants form the lifeblood of the country’s economy and society.
Many shop and restaurant owners in Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Texas, and other major U.S. cities joined the protest by closing their doors in a show of solidarity with their workers. In many places, illegal immigrants marched to demonstrate their role in the nation’s economy.
“I’m here to be the voice of those who can’t speak,” said Erika Montes, 30, who turned out for a march to the White House. “I’m here to show my students and their families, and my friends and family that teachers are supporting them and we are going to make sure they have a safe place.”
Coming on the heels of roundups of undocumented immigrants nationwide, organizers urged legal residents as well as undocumented ones to participate in the boycott in response to President Trump’s crackdown on immigration.
Among the White House actions rankling protesters are plans to build a border wall, install a temporary immigration ban on nationals from certain Muslim-majority nations, boost patrol agents to curb illegal immigration and strip federal funding from sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration agents.
Immigrants make up the majority of the 12 million workers in the restaurant industry and up to 70% of those employed in cities like New York and Chicago, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to improve working conditions. An estimated 1.3 million in the industry are immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, the group said.
Ethan Smith, co-owner of the New York City restaurant Hecho en Dumbo, heard of the strike Wednesday night when other restaurants texted him to see if he would also close. Despite the financial blow, Smith said the restaurant decided to join because of the lack of an authoritative voice to address the fear sweeping the immigrant community over raids by officials.
“This seemed like an opportune moment for us to show the undocumented community support,” he said. “We also hope it will show those who may wish to impose broader deportation measures that our community as a whole isn’t going to sit idly by and let neighbors be taken from their homes en masse. The president asserts that he ‘has a big heart’ in this regard so we’re hoping he might soon feel inclined to elaborate on that.”
In Washington, D.C., Busboys & Poets and more than a dozen other restaurants in the nation’s capital shut down, including the Sweetgreen salad chain. “Our team members are the face of the brand, from the front lines to our kitchen — they’re the backbone of this company and what makes Sweetgreen special,” said co-founders Jonathan Neman, Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru. “And that’s why we stand with them, today and every day.”
“From doctors to dishwashers, immigrants are integral to daily life in the U.S.,” tweeted Janet Murguia, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza, as she praised Spanish-American Chef Jose Andrés’ decision to close his Washington, D.C., restaurants Thursday.
Andrés decided to close after a few hundred of his employees told him they weren’t coming to work. “We are all one,” he said. “We should not be fighting among each other, we should all be working together to keep moving the country forward.”
Andrés faces a lawsuit from Trump after pulling out of a restaurant deal at Trump’s new Washington, D.C., hotel over offensive comments the then-presidential candidate made about Mexican immigrants.
Dozens of restaurants closed in Chicago, including several run by chef Rick Bayless. He kept only two open — Cruz Blanca and Lena Brava — and pledged to give 10% of gross revenue to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Chicago Tribune reported.
In Michigan, from Ypsilanti to Detroit to Pontiac, about 100 businesses, restaurants, car dealerships and groceries closed doors. Along Vernor Highway, a main commercial strip in the heart of Mexicantown in southwest Detroit, popular stores such as E & L Supermercado and Mexicantown Bakery closed.
“The goal for today is for the president to notice how important immigrants are for the country and for the economy and how bad it would be for the economy if immigrants weren’t in this country,’’ said Maria Sanchez, a community leader, at a rally in Clark Park in southwest Detroit.
Beauty shops, restaurants and bodegas in Passaic, N.J., closed, leaving Monroe Street, a hub for Mexican-owned businesses, without its usually crowded sidewalks Thursday morning.
The lack of people persuaded Leticia Velasquez of Passaic to keep the locks on the doors of her business. Velasquez, a legal resident who came from Mexico years ago, said many of her customers were undocumented.
“I saw that everything was closed and we have to be in solidarity,” Velasquez said. “There’s usually so many people and today nothing.”
Passaic Mayor Hector Lora applauded business owners for standing up and protesting in his city, home to immigrant families from many different parts of the world. “They have banded together to send a strong message — that what is important is family and community and not profit,” he said.
Lora said the strike extended to the municipal government, where some employees skipped work, and in schools, where more than 4,000 students representing about 33% of school population stayed home.
In Englewood, N.J., Donna Ristorucci said she was happy to be out marching for immigrant rights.
“They are here for a better life and the way they are being treated is inhumane,” Ristorucci said. “This country was built by immigrants and still can’t survive without them.”
In the seaside resort of Asbury Park, N.J., Hector Manny, 33, recalled how he worked 14-hour days, six days a week in restaurants when he came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 16.
“We will all participate so that the government can see how much money they can lose if we don’t buy anything from the store, if we don’t buy gas, if we don’t buy food, if we don’t go to work,” said Manny, a sous chef at Brickwall Tavern in the New Jersey seaside resort. “If we stop for one day.”
In Lakewood, Colo., Lowell Faulkner, owner of At Your Service Plumbing, told KDVR-TV he would close, even though it will cost him a couple thousand dollars.
“To me it’s worth it to stand behind them,” he says, noting that he and his wife have hired immigrants from eight countries over the years and trained them as plumbers.
“They’re honest. They show up to work every day,” he says. “You’ve got to judge people by the content of their heart, not the color of their skin.”
Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said many restaurant owners she represents supported immigrant employees who wished to strike and planned to call in additional workers to fill the gap.
In Nashville, Amqui Elementary was almost devoid of its immigrant students. Just six students showed up for Kim Dean’s 3rd grade English language learner reading class. Nine came to Lisa Anderson’s 3rd grade English language learning math class. Between the two classes, over 40 students were missing. Other schools in the district reported similar dips in immigrant student populations, including in East and South Nashville.
“We heard rumblings of it yesterday,” Dean said. “There has been a persistent fear about what if their parents disappear (due to Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweeps). Several have been talking about running away if they are placed in foster homes. They shouldn’t have to worry about that, they are only 8 and 9. They are babies.”
Elsewhere in the country:
— In Austin, Texas, about 400 to 500 people marched from city hall to the Texas Capitol a mile away, then back down Congress Avenue again. They held signs reading “Immigrants Make America Great!” and “NO BAN” and chanted “No Trump, No KKK, No Racist USA!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”
Tina Gonzalez, 44, closed her contractor business for the day, allowing her employees to join the rally. Then, she went herself, attending the rally with her son, Arturo, 14. Gonzalez is a U.S. citizen whose parents were Mexican immigrants and many of her relatives are immigrants married to U.S. citizens, she said. Her family lives in fear of having some members deported and the family torn apart.
“I totally agree: Get the criminals out. Rapists, murderers, drug dealers,” Gonzalez said. “But they’re taking innocent people and leaving their children behind, leaving their wives, leaving their husbands. It’s just terrible.”
— In Massachusetts, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College said it would remove or shroud all artwork created or provided by immigrants through Feb. 21.
— In New Mexico, the state with the largest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation, school officials worried hundreds of students would stay home Thursday.
“We respectfully ask all parents to acknowledge that students need to be in class every day to benefit from the education they are guaranteed and to avoid falling behind in school and life,” principals with the Albuquerque Public Schools wrote in a letter to parents. Students who take part in the protest will receive an unexcused absence, Albuquerque school officials said.
— In Corpus Christi, Texas, Las Milpas restaurant, the QC Meat Market and the Fiesta Mexicana all closed for the day. A sign on Las Milpas’ entrance read: “Closed only today, Feb. 16, 2017. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. We’re united to a noble cause. Thank you for understanding. We will be open tomorrow.”
— In Phoenix, acclaimed chef Silvana Salcido Esparza said she will close three of her Phoenix restaurants for the day: Barrio Cafe, Barrio Urbano and Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva.
“You know what, my restaurants don’t function without immigrants. That starts in the field, people who pick our food, the processing plants, the slaughterhouse, I could go on,” she said Wednesday, hours after she was named a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef — Southwest for the fifth time.
— In Atlanta, Farm Burger closed its three restaurants in Decatur, Buckhead and Dunwoody in solidarity with the protest.
“This is an opportunity to respect and support many of our employees’ hopes to use the day in protest of current government policies and treatment of immigrants,” the company said in a statement. “Farm Burger is thankful and indebted for the dedicated work from our immigrant staff over the years, be it in our kitchens, service or in the fields with our farmers.”