Thursday, February 16, 2017

On a ‘Day Without Immigrants,’ Workers Show Their Presence by Staying Home


Mohammad Razvi, center, hangs an American flag outside the Council of Peoples Organization in Brooklyn on Thursday, designated “a day without immigrants” via a social media and text message campaign. CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times
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 carpenters, plumbers, cooks, cleaners and grocery store owners decided to answer it and not work on Thursday as part of a national “day without immigrants” in protest of the Trump administration’s policies toward them.
The protest called for immigrants to stay home from work or school, close their businesses and abstain from shopping. People talked about it in restaurant staff meetings, on construction sites and on commuter buses, but the movement spread mostly on Facebook and via text message through WhatsApp.
“It’s like the Arab Spring,” said Manuel Castro, the executive director of NICE, the New Immigrant Community Empowerment, which works primarily with Hispanic immigrant day laborers in Jackson Heights, Queens. “Our members were coming to us, asking what the plan was. Frankly, it kind of came out of nowhere.”
But what began as a grass-roots 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.
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In New York, parts of the construction industry were shut down. Aldo Escura, 50, who owns Infinity Plumbing in Queens with his brother, Nelson, said that he gave his six workers the day off to participate in the protest and send a powerful message: “That we fully support the fight for the workers,” said Mr. Escura, who immigrated from Paraguay in 1996.
At an Astoria construction site, workers gathered at the end of the day on Wednesday to talk about the planned action.
“The supervisor asked us if we were going to work,” a 28-year-old carpenter from Cuenca, Ecuador, said in Spanish, giving only his first name, Santiago.
He said about 500 people from several companies were employed at the site, including carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
“From Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil. Some wanted to work, others didn’t. They talked among themselves,” he said. “We decided we wouldn’t, we’d support the cause. The supervisor said, ‘That’s fine, no one works tomorrow.’”

A 'Day Without Immigrants'

Are you staying home for a “Day Without Immigrants” or know someone who is? Have you seen local businesses closed or short-staffed? Tell us at

Santiago, who has lived in the country for 13 years, said he felt it was an important cause.
“If we don’t do something, they’re going to send us back.”
Angel, 44, an electrician from Quito, Ecuador, who also gave only his first name, said the 30 or so people at his job site in Astoria had also decided not to go to work.
“We’ve talked among us and we say, ‘Yes, there are some people who have made mistakes and committed crimes, but just because of a few, we’re all going to pay?’”
Angel said that he would not only sit out the workday but also avoid spending any money. “If we’re going to participate, we’re going to participate — no shopping.”
The action was not limited to Hispanic immigrants: In several blocks in Midwood, Brooklyn, virtually all stores were shuttered on Thursday, as part of a protest planned by Pakistani shop owners. An auto repair shop on Coney Island Avenue posted a handmade sign to the metal shutter: “We Are Immigrants.”
The driver of a discount shuttle bus outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Sam Ahmad, originally from Egypt, said on Wednesday night that he was not going to work on Thursday and many members of his mosque in New Jersey would not, either. Asked why, Mr. Ahmad, 57, said, “Because that crazy guy,” he said, referring to President Trump. “Because I’m Muslim and I got a lot of family here. They can get separated, and it’s not right. Our children are born here and grow up here.”
Around the country, restaurants, which often employ many immigrants, were planning to close in support of the action, including the Washington restaurants owned by José Andrés, the famed Spanish-born chef who has tangled publicly with Mr. Trump before. In Phoenix, the chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, a James Beard Award semifinalist, was planning to close three of her restaurants for the day.
In New York City, the high-end Blue Ribbon restaurant group posted a statement on Facebook and its website that it would be closing the majority of its restaurants. “We stand 100 percent behind our employees — whether they are immigrants or born in America, back of house or front of house,” the group said.

Mr. Castro, of the day laborers’ center in Queens, said that he and his members planned to attend City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s State of the City speech in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re at a stage where we’re like, what else is there to do except organize and boycott?” he said.

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