Day With­out Im­mi­grants: Protest closes res­tau­rants in U.S.

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ER­RIN HAINES WHACK

PHILADEL­PHIA — 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 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 way of life, and many busi­nesses closed in sol­i­dar­ity, in a na­tion­wide protest called A Day With­out Im­mi­grants.

The boy­cott was aimed squarely at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ef­forts to crack down on im­mi­gra­tion, le­gal and il­le­gal, by such means as a wall at the Mex­i­can bor­der. Or­ga­niz­ers said they ex­pected thou­sands to par­tic­i­pate or oth­er­wise show sup­port.

The protest even reached into the U.S. Capi­tol, where a Se­nate cof­fee shop was among the eater­ies that were closed as em­ploy­ees did not show up at work.

The day’s ac­tiv­i­ties also in­cluded ral­lies in sev­eral cities.

Marcela Ar­daya-Var­gas, who is from Bo­livia and now lives in Falls Church, Vir­ginia, pulled her son out of school to take him to a Day With­out Im­mi­grants 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.”

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.

Ex­pen­sive res­tau­rants and fast-food joints alike closed across the coun­try. Sushi bars, Brazil­ian steak­houses, Mex­i­can eater­ies and Thai and Ital­ian res­tau­rants turned away lunchtime cus­tomers.

On Ninth Street in South Philadel­phia’s Ital­ian Mar­ket, it was so quiet in the morn­ing that Rani Va­sudeva thought it might be Mon­day, when many of the busi­nesses on the nor­mally bustling stretch are closed.

Pro­duce stands and other stalls along “Calle Nueve” — as 9th Street is more com­monly known for its abun­dance of Mex­i­can-owned busi­nesses — stood empty, leav­ing cus­tomers to look else­where for fresh meat, bread, fruits and veg­eta­bles.

“It’s ac­tu­ally very sad,” said Va­sudeva, a 38year-old pro­fes­sor at Tem­ple Univer­sity. “You re­al­ize the im­pact the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity has. We need each other for our daily lives.”

At a White House news con­fer­ence held at the same time as the lunch-hour protests, Trump boasted of his bor­der se­cu­rity mea­sures and im­mi­gra­tion ar­rests of hun­dreds of peo­ple in the past 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 per cent of the in­crease in U.S. em­ploy­ment over that pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the La­bor Depart­ment. The for­eign-born — who in­clude Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, green­card hold­ers and those work­ing with­out le­gal au­tho­riza­tion — tend to be younger and to take jobs in fields that have been grow­ing fastest, in­clud­ing res­tau­rants, ho­tels and stores.

Roughly 12 mil­lion peo­ple are em­ployed in the res­tau­rant in­dus­try, and im­mi­grants make up the ma­jor­ity — up to 70 per cent 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 liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally, the group said.

The con­struc­tion in­dus­try, which also em­ploys large num­bers of im­mi­grants, was also af­fected.

Shea Frederick, who owns a small con­struc­tion com­pany in Bal­ti­more, showed up at 7 a.m. at a home he is ren­o­vat­ing and was sur­prised to find that he was alone, with a load of dry­wall ready for in­stall. He soon un­der­stood why: His crew, five im­mi­grants, called to say they weren’t com­ing to work. .

“I had an en­tire day of full work,” he said. “I have in­spec­tors lined up to in­spect the place, and you do it the day be­fore the week­end and it pushes things off even more. It sucks, but it’s un­der­stand­able.”


Kathia Suarez protests with oth­ers in down­town Sher­man, Texas, Thurs­day. Im­mi­grants across the coun­try stayed home from school and work to show how crit­i­cal they are to the econ­omy.

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