US & World

'A Day Without Immigrants' protest closes businesses Thursday

On the eve of a Day Without Immigrants, people attend a Valentine's Day rally organized by the New York Immigration Coalition called
On the eve of a Day Without Immigrants, people attend a Valentine's Day rally organized by the New York Immigration Coalition called "Love Fights Back" in New York City.
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The Nickel Diner in downtown Los Angeles would normally have been bustling Thursday, but at lunchtime the doors were locked and the lights were off. A banner hung from the front facade reading: “We are all immigrants.”

Restaurants across the U.S. and California closed their doors Thursday as part of a protest called “A Day Without Immigrants,” a combination boycott/strike that highlights the contributions of immigrants to U.S. business and culture.

The movement is a response to President Trump’s immigration agenda, which includes a pledge to seal the U.S. border with Mexico and a travel ban on citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries (which is now on hold).

While some businesses closed for the day, others stayed open but pledged to contribute a share of the day’s proceeds to nonprofits that aid Latino communities. In a number of cases, business owners are abiding by their staffs’ wishes, after holding votes to decide whether to open.

There was no central organization leading the protest, so it is difficult to get precise numbers on how many businesses participated. They ranged from five high-end establishments in Washington D.C. owned by celebrity chef José Andrés — who told NPR earlier this week that it was “a very easy decision” to close for the day and that he wants to support his employees who had planned not to work — to the Papolote taquerias in San Francisco, to seven restaurants owned by restaurateur George Abou-Daoud in L.A.

“Everyone knows in the restaurant industry we operate on the thinnest of margins, but from a human rights perspective it’s the right thing to do,” Abou-Daoud said. “Whether it be economics, human rights or basic survival, I’ve never shied away from standing up for what I believe is right.”

At Hatchet Hall in Culver City, close to half the workers are immigrants, according to co-owner Jonathan Strader. He says that made closing for the day an easy decision, despite the financial loss.

“In the long run the morale of the staff and having everyone unified together is way more important than one night of sales,” he said.

If Hatchet Hall had remained open, Strader says he’s not sure enough employees would have shown up to keep things running smoothly.

The day of protest comes after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents alarmed immigrant rights advocates by arresting some 680 people in raids across the U.S. last week. As NPR has reported, the Department of Homeland Security has called those raids routine, saying they targeted people who had criminal convictions.

At least two schools are closed for the day in Washington, D.C. And Ahmad Erfani, who was born in Iran and grew up in France, says he's closing his bakery, Le Caprice.

"Mostly the people who work here are immigrants. We spoke with them, they thought it's good for solidarity with the others to not work," he tells member station WAMU.

Erfani added, "They are hard workers. I am not happy when I see they are not very happy these days, because it is difficult. They work hard, they come here six in the morning. It is not very comfortable for us."

The Day Without Immigrants comes more than 10 years after another national movement, the Great American Boycott, used a May 1 boycott to protest the Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.

That legislation, also called HR 4437, would have required hundreds of miles of new fencing to be built along the Mexican border, along with toughening the federal stance toward people who are in the country illegally — and toward anyone in the U.S. who offers them shelter or aid. The bill won passage in the House of Representatives before failing in the Senate.

This story has been updated.