Undocumented immigrants make up an estimated 1.3 million of the restaurant industry’s 12 million workers, and on Thursday, Americans will feel their absence as restaurants close and immigrants—no matter their legal status—participate in a nationwide strike.
Restaurants around the country are closing during the Day Without Immigrants, either to show solidarity or because without their immigrant workforce, they are unable to operate.
In North Carolina, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently detained at least 20 undocumented people as part of nationwide immigration sweeps, restaurants and stores are showing solidarity.
Durham’s Compare Foods, a Latino grocery chain, will be the central location for the Un Día Sin Inmigrantes rally, organized by Alerta Migratoria, a North Carolina-based immigrant rights organization. Chapel Hill’s Bagel Bar will remain open on Thursday as the eatery’s immigrant workers strike, but in a statement, its owners said they wouldn’t be where they are today without immigrant workers.
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“They come in early. They stay late …. They are the heart and soul of our business and we fully support them in expressing their right to fight back,” the statement read.
The strike will affect the United States beyond its restaurants: Immigrants nationwide, no matter their industry, will not attend work, go to school, or purchase goods. The movement, primarily organized on social media, is intended to demonstrate how instrumental immigrants are to the U.S. workforce and economy. As the Nation’s Michelle Chen reported, undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.6 billion annually to the economy, including nearly $7 billion in sales and excise taxes and $3.6 billion in property taxes. “They are, in economic terms, productive citizens, and pay a higher effective tax rate than the top 1 percent income bracket,” Chen wrote.
While today’s strike is in direct response to President Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders and last week’s immigration sweeps that resulted in the detainment of nearly 700 undocumented people nationwide, this isn’t the first Day Without Immigrants.
On May 1, 2006, coinciding with May Day, thousands took to the streets to protest the U.S. Senate passing the so-called Sensenbrenner bill, which pushed to classify as felons undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them enter or remain in the United States. In Los Angeles that year, a Day Without Immigrants resulted in one of the city’s largest-ever demonstrations, with more than 500,000 refusing to attend work or school.
Today is a little more complicated for the nation’s immigrants whose work has become crucial to their communities in the Trump era. Prerna Lal, an immigration staff attorney and clinical supervisor at UC Berkeley’s East Bay Community Law Center, came to the United States at age 14 from the Fiji Islands and later founded the DreamActivist network, an online advocacy network led by undocumented youth, which pushed for the federal DREAM Act, DACA, and expanding prosecutorial discretion policies.
Like Lal, many of the nation’s immigrants doing work to help immigrants simply can’t strike, even for a day, in today’s political climate.
“I’d love to simply disappear, but my job is to primarily help immigrants, so I cannot just stop going to work. That would be counterproductive,” Lal told Rewire. “But I won’t buy anything in solidarity, and I will make sure to frequent the places that are closed today and tomorrow, in the near future.”