‘Day Without Immigrants’ will shutter D.C. businesses, schools

Ernest Yombo would rather students at Latin American Montessori Bilingual school come to class on Thursday, but instead, they will get an unexpected day off.

The D.C. public charter school, where he works as an assistant principal, will be forced to close for the day after more than half of the school’s staff announced their plans to participate in the “Day Without Immigrants” protest.

“As a school, we’d rather work tomorrow,” he said. “But as an administration, we don’t have a choice right now.”

Absences in the classroom are part of a larger citywide boycott, as activists take part in a social media-organized strike in reaction to what they say is President Trump’s pledges to crack down on those entering the country illegally, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border while more aggressively enforcing laws against those already in the country illegally. The cause is being taken up by dozens of restaurants, schools and other establishments which say they will close their doors or curb their business in solidarity.

On Facebook event pages for the protest, organizers urged immigrants not to attend work, open their businesses, spend money or send their children to school in an effort to spotlight the community’s contribution to the local economy. A march is planned to begin at noon in Mount Pleasant and head toward the White House.

Supporters of Mr. Trump’s tougher line argue they have nothing against legal immigration and those seeking to enter the U.S. through established channels, but that unchecked immigration harms lower-income American workers and poses legal and security problems for communities across the country.

At least 20 similar protests are listed Thursday as events on Facebook as “Un Dia Sin Imigrantes.” The demonstrations are planned in major cities across the country, including New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Austin, Texas. Immigration rights advocates in Wisconsin attracted thousands of activists for a “Day Without Latinos” protest Monday in Milwaukee’s predominantly Hispanic South Side.

“There would be no Toli Moli without immigrants,” said Simon Jacobson, co-founder of the Burmese dessert shop at Union Market, which will be closed Thursday. “The majority of our staff are either immigrants or first-generation Americans. We are in the business of sweetening snack time, and there is nothing sweeter than a legacy that honors our diverse families and ancestors.”

One Facebook event, hosted by nonprofit organization United for Change, said Thursday would be a “peaceful day,” but the boycott aims to “halt ‘business as usual.’”

D.C. Bilingual, a Spanish-English public charter school in Northwest, will carry out as normal a school day as possible while short more than 40 percent of its staff.

Head of School Daniela Anello said school officials fully support the protest’s cause, but staff shortages will necessitate an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to ensure children who do attend class are adequately supervised.

“We’ll have some of our leadership team members in the kitchen, helping with school lunches,” she said. “We’ve kind of turned the school around in making sure that for those children who do come to school, there will be adults available.”

Students whose families choose to participate in the protest will receive excused absences, she said, and staff members who participate will be granted approved leave.

“The message should be made loud and clear that without immigrants in our schools, in this case, we can’t provide rigorous instruction or a strong academic program for children in the city,” she said. “I hope that’s the message we are giving our families, our community members and our policymakers.”

Striking teachers will be joined in the demonstration by many restaurant staff members, which has led some local bars and restaurants to shutter their kitchens for the day. Among them are all the locations of Busboys and Poets and the 18 D.C.-area shops of fast-casual organic food chain Sweetgreen.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres, an immigrant from Spain who is battling Mr. Trump in court over a broken contract at the new Trump International Hotel in downtown D.C., said in a statement that he will be closing some of his D.C.-area restaurants — including three Jaleo restaurants, Zaytinya and Oyamel — “in solidarity with the many immigrants on our staff who are passionate about participating in ‘A Day Without Immigrants.’”

His other restaurants, China Chilcano and Beefsteak, will be open and “staffed by a collective team from all of our D.C.-area restaurants so that we can continue to both serve our guests as well as provide for those of our staff who plan to work that day.”

Drew Smith, general manager at Brookland Pint, said the bar’s kitchen will be closed to show support for members of its staff who are immigrants, but the decision was “not politically motivated.”

Owner John Andrade announced the closure on the bar’s Facebook page, writing that he supports “our immigrant staff’s desire and right to protest the evolving state of immigration policies in our country” and welcoming customers to “BYOF (bring your own food).”

 

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