‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest closes restaurants across the U.S.
The heart of Philadelphia’s Italian Market was uncommonly quiet. Fine restaurants in New York, San Francisco and the nation’s capital closed for the day. Grocery stores, food trucks, coffee shops, diners and taco joints in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston shut down.
Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America’s economy, and many businesses closed in solidarity, in a nationwide protest called a Day Without Immigrants.
The boycott was aimed squarely at President Trump’s efforts to step up deportations, build a wall at the Mexican border and close the nation’s doors to many travelers. Organizers said they expected thousands to participate or otherwise show support.
“I fear every day whether I am going to make it back home. I don’t know if my mom will make it home,” said Hessel Duarte, a 17-year-old native of Honduras who lives in Austin, Texas, with his family and skipped class at his high school to take part in one of several rallies held around the country. Duarte said he arrived in the U.S. at age 5 to escape gang violence.
Organizers appealed to immigrants from all walks of life to take part, but the effects were felt most strongly in the restaurant industry, which has long been a first step up the economic ladder for newcomers to America with its many jobs for cooks, dishwashers and servers. Restaurant owners with immigrant roots of their own were among those acting in solidarity with workers.
Expensive restaurants and fast-food joints alike closed, some perhaps because they had no choice, others because of what they said was sympathy for their immigrant employees. Sushi bars, Brazilian steakhouses, Mexican eateries and Thai and Italian restaurants all turned away lunchtime customers.
“The really important dynamic to note is this is not antagonistic, employee-against-employer,” said Janet Murguia, president of the Hispanic rights group National Council of La Raza. “This is employers and workers standing together, not in conflict.”
She added: “Businesses cannot function without immigrant workers today.”
At a White House news conference held as the lunch-hour protests unfolded, Trump boasted of his border security measures and immigration arrests of hundreds of people in the last week, saying, “We are saving lives every single day.”
Since the end of 2007, the number of foreign-born workers employed in the U.S. has climbed by nearly 3.1 million to 25.9 million; they account for 56% of the increase in U.S. employment over that period, according to the Labor Department.
About 12 million people are employed in the restaurant industry, and immigrants make up the majority — up to 70% in places 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 in the U.S. illegally, the group said.
The construction industry, which likewise employs large numbers of immigrants, also felt the effects of Thursday’s protest.
Shea Frederick, who owns a small construction company in Baltimore, showed up at 7 a.m. at a home he is renovating and found that he was all alone, with a load of drywall ready for installation. He soon understood why: His crew, five immigrants, called to say they weren’t coming to work. They were joining the protests.
“I had an entire day of full work,” he said. “I have inspectors lined up to inspect the place, and now they’re thrown off, and you do it the day before the weekend and it pushes things off even more. It sucks, but it’s understandable.”
Marcela Ardaya-Vargas, who is from Bolivia and now lives in Falls Church, Va., pulled her son out of school to take him to a march in Washington.
“When he asked why he wasn’t going to school, I told him because today he was going to learn about immigration,” she said, adding: “Our job as citizens is to unite with our brothers and sisters.”
Carmen Solis, a Mexico-born U.S. citizen, took the day off from work as a project manager and brought her two children to a rally in Chicago.
“I feel like our community is going to be racially profiled and harassed,” she said of Trump’s immigration policies. “It’s very upsetting. People like to take out their anger on the immigrants, but employers are making profits off of them. “
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