More than 100 businesses around the Twin Cities shut their doors, immigrant workers left their jobs, and marchers took to the streets Thursday as part of the nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” protest.
The event, organized via social media, urged immigrants, regardless of their legal status, to stay away from work, shutter their businesses, hold their children out of school and refrain from spending money to protest President Donald Trump’s views and actions on immigration.
“It was a show of resistance,” said Maya Santamaria, owner of La Raza Radio and Telemundo Minnesota. “What it said to us locally was that we can organize … and that we’re willing to take the hit economically to make a point and effect change. It shows that people are uniting and that a movement is happening.”
Latino restaurants and markets accounted for most of the business closings, but other businesses around the Twin Cities sympathetic to the cause also shut down. Others allowed immigrant employees to stay off the job without repercussions.
In the business realm, the most noticeable effects were seen in the closings of some restaurants and shorthanded kitchen staffs at others. Out on the street, more than 1,000 people marched Thursday morning from the Mexican consulate in St. Paul to the Minnesota State Capitol.
The marchers, joined by members of Black Lives Matter and Native Lives Matter, drew honks of support from passing motorists. Their signs were in English and Spanish. “Immigrants make America great!!!” one read.
“It’s beautiful to see this event happen so organically,” said Francisco Segovia, the head of Waite House community center in Minneapolis, who was among those who marched to the Capitol. “People who haven’t been activists or political leaders or organizers have stood up and organized this.”
John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said anger and fear among immigrants have been simmering since the election, and have been fueled further by Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven majority Muslim countries, as well as the stepped-up deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Recent enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including several in the Twin Cities metro last week, sparked concern in immigrant communities about more aggressive and widespread deportation measures. But local officials said their actions were “routine law enforcement” and not part of a larger national operation.
Sarah Janecek, a Republican activist, said much of the reaction to the policies coming out of Washington, D.C., is based on misinformation. “I know of no Republicans who are not for legal immigration,” she said. “The trouble is that people don’t take time to learn the difference between legal and illegal immigration.”
Janecek said Trump has done nothing to change the pace of deportation of illegal immigrants set by Obama. “However, it’s got a new face on it that for some is easy to hate.”
But to Keller, “saying you’re just going to deport people who are illegal … betrays the complexity of the undocumented individual.” Most undocumented workers have been in the United States for 15 years on average and have become vital members of communities and the economy, he said.
“This is a personal issue to the Latino community, even if you might be a generation or four removed from your own immigration experience,” he said. “You either have someone in your family or know someone who already has been impacted or has heightened fear of being targeted.”
The national one-day boycott allowed immigrants to stand up and say they’re important, Keller said.
Among the restaurants closing Thursday were the World Street Kitchen on Lyndale Avenue S. in Minneapolis, which posted a message to its customers on Facebook: “We are immigrants, and our business relies on immigrants.”
The Blue Plate group of Twin Cities restaurants, among them The Lowry and the Highland, Longfellow and Edina grills, explained in a similar posting that “since we are a family of community restaurants, we listened to our community. And believe we are strongest when we are united. Because of that, we’ve chosen not to be open [Thursday].”
A spokeswoman for the restaurant said it was reviewing “a number of implications from today,” including whether to pay employees who had been scheduled to report for work Thursday.
Elizabeth Tinucci, part owner of Colossal Cafe, said half of her full-time staff didn’t show up for work. She said she held an informal employee meeting on Wednesday and gave employees the option of participating in the boycott. They wouldn’t be paid, but they wouldn’t face any repercussions for not working.
“We just wanted them to let us know if they weren’t coming in,” she said. Although the staff was stretched thin at each of the restaurant’s three locations, employees agreed to pitch in so those who wanted to honor the protest could, Tinucci said.
A Subway sandwich shop in the Minneapolis skyway was closed. A man inside told a passerby that he couldn’t open because no employees showed up to work.
At the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, about 15 of the 45 businesses shut down for the day, said Becky Gazca, market spokeswoman. Most of the businesses that closed were Latino-owned, she said.
Some Latino-owned day care centers also closed, Segovia said. Others wrestled with the idea of closing, but ultimately didn’t want to inconvenience parents.
Former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., was in California Thursday, but was keeping tabs on how the national protest was playing out in Minnesota.
“They’re doing the only thing they can do to express their value in our communities,” he said. “These people invested their lives and savings in their businesses. … I wish I could be there when they open [Friday] and say thank you to them … for standing up for these values.”
Haley Hansen, a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune; staff writers Beena Raghavendran and Mila Koumpilova and the Washington Post contributed to this report.
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