Across the nation, thousands of protesters took part in a wide array of “Day Without Immigrants” events, ranging from marches, to boycotting jobs to keeping kids out of school to underscore how much migrants form the lifeblood of the country’s economy and social structure.
Many shop and restaurant owners in Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Texas, and other major U.S. cities joined in the protest by closing their doors in a show of solidarity with their workers.
In many of the cities, marches were also mounted as immigrants sought 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.
Ethan Smith, co-owner with Danny Mena of the New York City restaurant Hecho en Dumbo, said he only got wind of the strike Wednesday night when other restaurants texted him to see if they too were closing. Despite the financial blow of closing on a Thursday, he said they quickly decided to join in because of the lack of an authoritative voice to address the fear sweeping the immigrant community about raids by emigration authorities.
“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.”
Sign posted on door at Zavino at 13th and Sansom. Restaurant will be closed today for 'Day without Immigrants'. pic.twitter.com/VpuPQIXpRW
— Katherine Scott (@KScott6abc) February 16, 2017
In Washington, D.C., Busboys & Poets and more than a dozen other restaurants in the nation’s capital shut down for the day, including the Sweetgreen salad chain that 18 area stores. “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 said he decided to close after a few hundred of his employees told him they weren’t coming to work Thursday. They asked for his support and got it. “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.
In Michigan, from Ypsilanti to Detroit to Pontiac, about 100 businesses, restaurants, car dealerships and groceries closed their doors in a show of support to immigrants. 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 were 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 Thursday as part of the nationwide strike. On Monroe Street, a hub for Mexican-owned businesses, pedestrian traffic was light around 10:30 a.m., a time when the sidewalks are usually crowded with customers.
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 and it was a way of supporting them.
— Janet Murguía (@JMurguia_NCLR) February 15, 2017
“I saw that everything was closed and we have to be in solidarity,” Velasquez said. “There’s usually so many people and today nothing.”
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,” Manny told the Asbury Park Press.
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 all to be 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 were supporting immigrant employees who wished to strike and would call in additional workers to fill the gap.
— NYC ImmigrantAffairs (@NYCImmigrants) February 16, 2017
In Nashville, Amqui Elementary was almost devoid of its immigrant students. Kim Dean’s 3rd grade English language learner reading classroom contained just six students. Lisa Anderson’s 3rd grade English language learning math classroom had nine students. Between the two classes, over 40 students were missing. Other schools throughout the district reported seeing similar dips in its immigrant 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:
— The Davis Museum at Wellesley College in Massachusetts 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 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.”