Im­mi­grant protest closes US restau­rants

Im­mi­grants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thurs­day

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By 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, 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 Don­ald 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.

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.

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 past week, say­ing, “We are sav­ing lives ev­ery sin­gle day.”

Since the end of 2007, the num­ber of for­eign­born 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 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 in­stall. 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.”

Frederick said that while he fun­da­men­tally agrees with the ac­tion, and ap­pre­ci­ates why his crew felt the need to par­tic­i­pate, he feels his busi­ness is be­ing made to suf­fer as a re­sult of the pres­i­dent’s poli­cies.

“It’s hurt­ing the wrong peo­ple,” he said. “A gi­gan­tic part of this state didn’t vote this per­son in, and we’re pay­ing for his ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions.”

There were no im­me­di­ate es­ti­mates of how many stu­dents stayed home in var­i­ous cities. Many stu­dent ab­sences may not be ex­cused, and some peo­ple who skipped work will lose a day’s pay or per­haps even their jobs. But or­ga­niz­ers and par­tic­i­pants ar­gued the cause was worth it.


A mail car­rier passes a closed bak­ery Thurs­day, Feb. 16, 2017, in south Philadel­phia’s Ital­ian Mar­ket. In an ac­tion called “A Day With­out Im­mi­grants”, im­mi­grants across the coun­try are ex­pected to stay home from school and work on Thurs­day to show how crit­i­cal they are to the U.S. econ­omy and way of life.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.