‘Day without im­mi­grants’ emp­ties schools and shops

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION - By Liz Rob­bins and An­nie Cor­real

4 NEW YORK >> It first spread on so­cial me­dia, rip­pling through im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties like the op­po­site of fear and ru­mor: a call to boy­cott. In the New York re­gion and around the coun­try, many cooks, car­pen­ters, plum­bers, clean­ers and gro­cery store own­ers de­cided to an­swer it and not to work Thurs­day as part of a na­tional “day without im­mi­grants” in protest of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies to­ward them.

The protest called for im­mi­grants, whether nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens or un­doc­u­mented, to stay home from work or school, close their busi­nesses and ab­stain from shop­ping. Peo­ple planned for it in res­tau­rant staff meet­ings, on con­struc­tion sites and on com­muter buses, but the move­ment spread mostly on Face­book and via What­sApp, the mes­sag­ing ser­vice. No na­tional group or­ga­nized the ac­tion. “It’s like the Arab Spring,” said Manuel Cas­tro, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NICE, the New Im­mi­grant Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment, which works pri­mar­ily with His­panic im­mi­grant day la­bor­ers in New York. “Our mem­bers were com­ing to us, ask­ing what the plan was. Frankly, it kind of came out of nowhere.” But what be­gan as a grass­roots move­ment quickly reached the high­est lev­els of fed­eral gov­ern­ment. In Washington the Pen­tagon warned its em­ploy­ees that a num­ber of its food con­ces­sions, in­clud­ing Sbarro’s, Star­bucks and Taco Bell, were closed be­cause im­mi­grant em­ploy­ees had stayed home and that they could ex­pect longer lines at restau­rants that were open. Restau­rants, from San Fran­cisco to Phoenix to Washington, D.C., were some of the most vis­i­ble spots af­fected, with well­known chefs clos­ing some of their eater­ies for the day in sup­port. Rick Bay­less, the Chicago chef and owner of the Fron­tera Grill, closed sev­eral of his restau­rants and said he would give a por­tion of the rev­enues from oth­ers to an im­mi­grant rights group.

“I can’t say enough about the lack of re­spect and the fear-mon­ger­ing and hate-mon­ger­ing that I’m sens­ing around us these days,” Bay­less said. Some peo­ple felt sup­port for im­mi­grants who are un­doc­u­mented was wrong­headed.

“Of course, no­body wants to do without im­mi­grants. They are what made Amer­ica,” Sarah Crysl Akhtar, 67, a writer in Lebanon, N.H., said. “But there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween le­gal im­mi­grants and il­le­gal aliens.” Some schools and child care cen­ters across the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enced a drop in at­ten­dance.

At KIPP Austin Co­mu­nidad, a ma­jor­ity-His­panic char­ter school in Austin, Texas, one teacher posted on Twit­ter that only seven of her 26 stu­dents came to school Thurs­day. “Some of our school buses were com­ing to school with two and four chil­dren on them,” said Sarah Gon­za­les, a se­cond-grade bilin­gual teacher at the school. “Noth­ing like this has ever hap­pened be­fore.”

By the end of the day, the KIPP Austin Pub­lic Schools net­work ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Steven Ep­stein, said only 60 per­cent of stu­dents at­tended its 10 schools with 5,000 stu­dents. Usu­ally the at­ten­dance rate is 98 per­cent or above.

More than half of all stu­dents stayed home from schools in Men­dota, Calif., a small city in the state’s Cen­tral Val­ley, where un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants make up the vast ma­jor­ity of agri­cul­tural work­ers.

A spokesman for the school dis­trict said that while school of­fi­cials had heard of the protest be­fore­hand, they did not ex­pect so many of the roughly 3,300 stu­dents to be ab­sent. Still, cities did not grind to a halt, and for most peo­ple the ac­tion was an in­con­ve­nience — a longer wait for lunch, a fa­vorite res­tau­rant closed, a bus driver who wasn’t there. Mex­i­can work­ers par­tic­i­pated in large num­bers in New York. In Sun­set Park, Brook­lyn, bak­eries and taque­rias were closed, and a pub­lic li­brary was crowded with par­ents and chil­dren they kept home from school. The ac­tion was not lim­ited to His­panic im­mi­grants: In sev­eral blocks in Brook­lyn, vir­tu­ally all stores were shut­tered Thurs­day as part of a protest planned by Pak­istani shop own­ers.

The Davis Mu­seum at Welles­ley Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts took an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to the protest. It re­moved or cloaked 120 works of art that had been ei­ther cre­ated or do­nated by an im­mi­grant — about 20 per­cent of the mu­seum’s dis­play.

With en­tire gal­leries shrouded in black felt and plac­ards re­plac­ing paint­ings, the di­rec­tor of the mu­seum, Lisa Fis­chman said, “I’ve been call­ing it an in­ter­ven­tion be­cause it takes what we have and re­frames it.”


Passers-by read a sign posted at a San Fran­cisco res­tau­rant an­nounc­ing its clo­sure Thurs­day in sol­i­dar­ity with the na­tional “day without im­mi­grants.”

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