Stu­dents miss school, busi­nesses close for im­mi­grants’ day

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BRENDA BERNET

Nearly half the stu­dents of Spring­dale’s Jones Ele­men­tary School missed school Thurs­day.

Dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tors said they won’t of­fi­cially know why the rate of ab­sences rate was so large un­til the stu­dents re­turn, but said they think many were par­tic­i­pat­ing in the na­tion­wide protest called A Day With­out Im­mi­grants. About 87 per­cent of the school’s 540 stu­dents come from fam­i­lies speak­ing for­eign lan­guages at home.

North­west Ar­kan­sas par­tic­i­pa­tion in Day With­out Im­mi­grants was a “grass­roots” ef­fort catch­ing steam with mem­bers of the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity choos­ing to close busi­nesses or to stay home from work, said Mireya Reith, found­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ar­kan­sas United Com­mu­nity Coali­tion, a Spring­dale-based im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy group.

The boy­cott was aimed at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ef­fort 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.

The im­mi­grant com­mu­nity is re­act­ing to fears and un­cer­tainty about fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment ac­tiv­ity, Reith said. She has been in touch with law en­force­ment and the New Or­leans of­fice for U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and isn’t aware of any­thing beyond the agency’s rou­tine op­er­a­tions re­spond­ing to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

The of­fice posted the fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day on Twit­ter: “Re­ports of ICE check­points and sweeps or “roundups” are false, dan­ger­ous and ir­re­spon­si­ble. These re­ports cre­ate mass panic and put com­mu­ni­ties and law en­force­ment per­son­nel in un­nec­es­sary dan­ger.”

A vigil to­day and a state con­fer­ence this week­end in Lit­tle Rock are aimed at pro­vid­ing a space for peo­ple from Ar­kan­sas to share con­cerns and in­ter­est in sup­port­ing im­mi­grants, she said.

The Spring­dale coali­tion wasn’t in­volved in the protest, but Reith sup­ports the state­ment res­i­dents made with a demon­stra­tion of their eco­nomic power and im­pact.

MISS­ING SCHOOL

The Spring­dale School

Dis­trict has the largest num­ber of chil­dren in the state who speak for­eign lan­guages at home, with 54 per­cent, or 11,783 of the 21,660 stu­dents in kinder­garten through 12th grade, com­ing from fam­i­lies who speak more than 40 lan­guages at home.

Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent Jared Cleve­land said about 7 per­cent of stu­dents are ab­sent on a typ­i­cal day, but 26 per­cent of stu­dents in kinder­garten through 12th grade missed school Thurs­day. Prin­ci­pals will fol­low dis­trict pol­icy on ab­sences. Ab­sences also were large among pre-kinder­gart­ners with 38 per­cent of the 1,340 chil­dren in the pro­gram not in class­rooms Thurs­day, Cleve­land said.

Jones Ele­men­tary School Prin­ci­pal Melissa Fink said fam­i­lies at the school fall on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Shortly after the elec­tion, some stu­dents ex­pressed con­cerns about be­ing de­ported, but Fink said she as­sured the chil­dren and their par­ents school is a safe place.

“This is where I need to be,” Fink said. “We not only meet their aca­demic needs, but so­cial, emo­tional and phys­i­cal needs. This is where I can make the most im­pact.”

Fink met with par­ents in­volved in the school Fam­ily Lit­er­acy Pro­gram re­cently and said she talked to them about how to have a voice. Stu­dents are learn­ing to back up their opin­ions with facts, and she en­cour­aged par­ents to learn about all sides of an is­sue to de­velop an in­formed opin­ion.

The Rogers School Dis­trict re­ported about 22 per­cent of stu­dents were ab­sent Thurs­day, well more than the nor­mal rate of 6 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Ash­ley Si­wiec, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the dis­trict. “School is still go­ing on, but we miss hav­ing every stu­dent here,” Si­wiec said in an email.

A lit­tle more than half of Rogers’ stu­dents are racial or eth­nic mi­nori­ties, in­clud­ing about 45 per­cent who are His­panic, ac­cord­ing to state data.

IM­MI­GRANT WORK­ERS

Signs in Span­ish in­formed would-be cus­tomers of some North­west Ar­kan­sas shops they were closed as part of the Day With­out Im­mi­grants.

Bren­dan Sim­mons, a ju­nior at Har-Ber High School, was puz­zled when he walked up to one of his fa­vorite places for ta­cos, Ta­que­ria Gua­na­ju­ato, to find it was closed.

He stopped by one lo­ca­tion, learned it was closed and then drove to the sec­ond lo­ca­tion to find an­other locked door. The ta­cos were to be a treat for do­ing well on an ACT pre-test, he said. At school, he no­ticed his classes were smaller than usual, but ini­tially didn’t re­al­ize the pos­si­ble con­nec­tion with Day With­out Im­mi­grants, he said.

Then Sim­mons re­mem­bered see­ing some in­for­ma­tion about Day With­out Im­mi­grants on In­sta­gram. He no­tices the im­pact of im­mi­grants on the com­mu­nity with all the lo­cally-owned restau­rants with a fo­cus on eth­nic foods, he said.

“They’re just peo­ple,” he said. “They’re a part of the Spring­dale com­mu­nity.”

The protest even reached into the U.S. Capi­tol, where a Se­nate cof­fee shop was among the eater­ies closed as em­ploy­ees didn’t show up at work.

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.

“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 lunch­hour protests un­folded, Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 per­cent of the in­crease in U.S. em­ploy­ment over that pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the La­bor Depart­ment.

Roughly 12 mil­lion peo­ple are em­ployed in the restau­rant in­dus­try, and im­mi­grants make up the ma­jor­ity — up to 70 per­cent in places such as 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 also em­ploys large num­bers of im­mi­grants, and some busi­nesses across the coun­try re­ported a short­age of work­ers Thurs­day. Ex­ec­u­tives at a pair of North­west Ar­kan­sas firms, Bay­yari Prop­er­ties and Con­struc­tion and C.R. Craw­ford Con­struc­tion, said the event had no ef­fect on their com­pa­nies.

“We rely on each other for what we do,” said Phil Jones, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer at C.R. Craw­ford, where roughly one-fifth of the work­force at the main com­pany and its con­crete-fo­cused sub­sidiary are nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens or the chil­dren of im­mi­grants. “We’re very blessed to have a very com­mit­ted work­force that does the right thing for our clients every day.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

A hand­writ­ten sign alerts El Pa­tron Mar­ket cus­tomers Thurs­day the Spring­dale busi­ness is closed for the day.

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