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07:47, 17 February 2017 Friday

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US businesses feel pinch on 'Day Without Immigrants'
US businesses feel pinch on 'Day Without Immigrants'

Protest urges immigrants to stay home from work, school to highlight contributions

World Bulletin / News Desk

 Scores of businesses across the U.S. were shuttered Thursday — a normally busy day that signals the unofficial start of the weekend for many industries.

They're closed not for a shortage of patrons or goods, but because of a nationwide boycott called for by a decentralized protest movement seeking to highlight the power of America's immigrant community.

The "Day Without Immigrants" urged immigrants, regardless of legal status, to stay home in lieu of going to work or school to put their contribution to the country on full display. 

The demonstration is in defiance of President Donald Trump's controversial immigration policies that have included a crackdown on undocumented migrants, a proposed wall along America's southern border with Mexico and now defunct ban on migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. 

All across the nation's capital, more than 100 normally busy restaurants were closed while dozens of others were only partially operating. 

One business that willfully chose to keep its doors locked, Toki Underground, told Anadolu Agency it was doing so in support of its Hispanic workforce. 

“This is important and it has greater significance beyond our immediate business right now," said general manager Olivier Caillabet.

In New York, where Hispanics make up more than a quarter of the city’s population, restaurants and shops downed their shutters.

The Blue Ribbon restaurant chain, with seven branches that employs nearly 500 workers, announced it would participate in the protest by shutting down, braving a loss of thousands of dollars.

Some businesses were less enthusiastic, however, especially those of Latin American origin, arguing they can’t afford the cost.

Ricardo Alvares, manager at La Pulperia -- a rustic Latin cuisine restaurant with two locations in Manhattan -- said the eatery would not participate because “we need to run a a business, and business runs on people coming in and spending money”.

Tommy Grecko, owner of K Rico South American Steakhouse in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, said February being “one of the worst months of the year for restaurant business” didn’t help.

Grecko said closing would create a “ripple effect”, harming a lot of people working in the business including wait staff, bartenders, busers and food runners who “live paycheck to paycheck” at this time of the year.

Similar store and restaurant closures occurred in New Jersey, a state where close to one-third of businesses are owned by immigrants, according to figures by the Partnership for a New American Economy. One such restaurant was Los Charritos, which closed all four of its locations in Hoboken and Weehawken with a total staff of 60.

The mayor of very diverse Passaic, New Jersey, reported about one-third of students did not show up for class Thursday. Similar figures were reported in som school districts across the country.
In Chicago, thousands marched in support of immigrants’ rights, and dozens of stores and restaurants, many of them immigrant-owned, closed up shop.

In a letter that went viral, Pete’s Fresh Market, owned by Greek immigrant Jimmy Dremonas, threatened to suspend employees for a week if they skipped work Thursday. 

Met with backlash, the store chain said in a Facebook post that it “will show our support” by closing five of its branches and allowing employers to join “without any negative consequences”.

In Philadelphia, many corner stores and bodegas shut down. 

Photographs shared on social media showed closed shops with placards and notes attached to their windows in Norristown, a hub for immigrant-owned businesses just outside of the city.

A small group of demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall in Philadelphia in protest, as it promoted immigrants’ contribution to the U.S. while denouncing arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Further west, dozens of closures were reported in Los Angeles and Seattle -- highlighting the reach of the planned protest.

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