Ben's Chili Bowl joined thousands of businesses nationwide on Feb. 16 to support the "Day Without Immigrants" demonstration in protest of the Trump administration's stance on immigration. (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)
Ben's Chili Bowl joined thousands of businesses nationwide on Feb. 16 to support the "Day Without Immigrants" demonstration in protest of the Trump administration's stance on immigration. (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)

A “Day Without Immigrants” took place on Thursday, gaining recognition through social media and word of mouth as people all across the country stayed home from work and school, closed businesses and refused to spend money.

The goal was to prove that immigrants are a vital component of businesses in the United States. As summed up by Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, “Businesses cannot function without immigrant workers today.”

While entire cities did not shut down and business operations did not halt completely, business owners and patrons alike could see a significant difference.

Incredibly, the nationwide moment was not started by one particular organization. It spread widely via Facebook and quickly impacted all sectors of employment — including the federal government. The Pentagon told its employees several of its restaurants would be closed because immigrants would not be working that day.

BLT Prime, a restaurant in the Trump International D.C. Hotel, ran on a limited menu, CNN reported, and its sister restaurant, located near the White House, was closed entirely.

New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and other places all felt the effects of the protest.

José Andrés, a Spanish celebrity chef who is currently involved in a legal dispute with President Donald Trump, announced he would be closing several of his Washington-based restaurants for the day.

“They were giving us a heads-up that they weren’t coming to work on Thursday, and the number of employees kept increasing,” Andrés said in an interview with the Atlantic. “[My employees] are doing it to show how important immigrants are for America, and we’re supporting them in closing.”

Andrés said immigrants are “the backbone of the American economy.”

“By not working tomorrow, it’s a way to feel good that they’re doing something about it and sending a message,” he explained Wednesday. “This is almost saying, ‘We’re here. We’re working. We want to be part of the system. We want to keep supporting the America that has supported us, but at this moment we’re really fed up.’”

Some employees chose to strike but not before making sure their work was done. A restaurant owner in Washington, D.C., found a note from his prep cooks that they had done extra work in advance before taking part in Thursday’s strike.

“We’re a very small business, and without them we would not be able to open today,” said Matt Carr, owner of Little Red Fox restaurant. “They not only gave me a heads-up about the strike, but did double the work yesterday so we would be in good shape today.”

“Immigrants are the backbone of this country and the heart and soul of the service industry,” Carr said. “Without them, our small businesses would crumble. They are also part of our family here at Little Red Fox, and I, too, am worried about their future under this administration.”

Some restaurants showed support in other ways. Chicago chef and restaurant owner Rick Bayless left some of his restaurants open and would be donating some of his earnings for the day to an immigrant group, he reported to The New York Times.

“What really makes our country great is the diversity we experience here,” said Bayless. “I can’t say enough about the lack of respect and the fear-mongering and hate-mongering that I’m sensing around us these days.”

Consumers noticed the difference, too, whether it was through longer wait times due to limited staff or the closures of businesses entirely. Rabbi Joel Labin, who lives in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, took note of the lack of Latino workers in the neighborhood and said he felt he could relate.

“I thought, ‘Oy, my coffee will not be as good as any day,’ but I felt, ‘Good for them, they are standing up for their rights,” Labin said. “We grew up with these stories. I hear from my grandparents the issue of immigration from Europe. I feel like it’s kind of my story, too.”

Some people did not believe the strike would affect them until they went to their favorite local business and saw it closed.

Restaurants were not the only businesses that felt the effects. Shea Frederick, owner of a Baltimore-based construction company, said that he had a full day of work planned — only to realize his workers, five immigrants, would not be showing up to work that day and would be participating in the strike.

“I had an entire day of full work,” he said. “I have inspectors lined up to inspect the place, and now they’re thrown off, and you do it the day before the weekend and it pushes things off even more. It sucks, but it’s understandable.”

Schools across the country noticed the protest, too. The Associated Press reported that, at Dallas Independent School District schools, over 1,100 students did not show up for class on Thursday.

College students took to social media to say they would not be going to class that day in light of the protest. Some even reported that their professors cancelled class entirely.

Immigrants in the Workforce

“Day Without Immigrants” showed the effects of immigrant workers for one day. But a workforce without immigrants would have a large impact on the country. Data shows that the workforce consists of between 26 million and 28 million foreign-born people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, in 2015, foreign-born people consisted of 16.7 percent of the total workforce. This is up from 14.8 percent in 2005.

The restaurant industry in particular has a lot of foreign-born workers — in a variety of roles. The National Restaurant Association reported this month that 2.3 million foreign-born workers work in restaurants across the country, representing about 8 percent of the total workforce.

“Restaurants also have a higher concentration of foreign-born workers than the overall U.S. economy. More than 23 percent of individuals employed at restaurants are foreign-born, versus 19 percent for the overall economy,” the organization reported. “Foreign-born workers are comparatively more likely to hold higher-paying jobs in the restaurant industry, according to ACS [American Community Survey] data. Forty-five percent of restaurant chefs are foreign-born, as are 24 percent of restaurant managers.”

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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