'Day Without Immigrants': Protest closes businesses across US

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Grocery stores, food trucks, coffee shops, diners and taco joints in Houston and other large American cities were uncommonly quiet -- or downright closed -- on Thursday.

Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America's economy, and many businesses closed in solidarity, in a nationwide protest called A Day Without Immigrants.

The boycott was aimed squarely at President Donald Trump's efforts to step up deportations, build a wall at the Mexican border and close the nation's doors to many travelers. Organizers said they expected thousands to participate or otherwise show support.

Dozens of immigrants gathered at Guadalupe Plaza Park in east Houston on Thursday to protest Trump's immigration policy.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, immigrants make up 32% of Houston's workforce. Foreign-born households are estimated to hold nearly $32 billion in spending power.

"I fear every day whether I am going to make it back home. I don't know if my mom will make it home," said Hessel Duarte, a 17-year-old native of Honduras who lives in Austin, Texas, with his family and skipped class at his high school to take part in one of several rallies held around the country. Duarte said he arrived in the U.S. at age 5 to escape gang violence.

More than 1,100 students went on strike at Dallas Independent School District schools on Thursday. That's according to school board member Miguel Solis.

The El Rancho supermarket chain closed its 16 stores for the day. In Fort Worth, school absences were about 13 percentage points above normal. Other North Texas districts saw light to moderate increases in absenteeism Thursday.

Absenteeism is much higher in the Austin area, where classrooms were reported to be no more than half-full. Hundreds of immigrant rights advocates rallied and marched from the Texas Capitol through downtown Austin.

The protest even reached into the U.S. Capitol, where a Senate coffee shop was among the eateries that were closed as employees did not show up at work.

Organizers appealed to immigrants from all walks of life to take part, but the effects were felt most strongly in the restaurant industry, which has long been a first step up the economic ladder for newcomers to America with its many jobs for cooks, dishwashers and servers. Restaurant owners with immigrant roots of their own were among those acting in solidarity with workers.

Expensive restaurants and fast-food joints alike closed, some perhaps because they had no choice, others because of what they said was sympathy for their immigrant employees. Sushi bars, Brazilian steakhouses, Mexican eateries and Thai and Italian restaurants all turned away lunchtime customers.

"The really important dynamic to note is this is not antagonistic, employee-against-employer," said Janet Murguia, president of the Hispanic rights group National Council of La Raza. "This is employers and workers standing together, not in conflict."

She added: "Businesses cannot function without immigrant workers today."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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