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Restaurants go off-menu for Day Without Immigrants

McDonald’s joined several other restaurant chains including Pete’s Fresh Market in Chicago, which closed 5 out of its 12 grocery stores as part of the national “Day Without Immigrants” protest campaign Thursday February 16. In addition the Ideal Market in the Mid-City area of New Orleans’ Mid-City shuttered its doors for the day in solidarity for the area’s large Latino population, which evolved in response to a need for construction workers following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

While seen as a slap at the Trump Administration’s new policies regarding immigrant admission into the US, the event was organized to show just how vital immigrant labor has become to the US economy.

According to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, approximately 12 million people are currently employed in the restaurant industry, with immigrants making up as much as 70% of workers in cities like Chicago and New York. They also stated that as many as 1.3 million of these are living in this country illegally.

In the meantime, Labor Department reported that the number of foreign-born workers employed here has jumped by nearly 3.1 million to 25.9 million since 2007, And while many Americans remain out of work or underemployed, immigrants now account for 56% of the increase in American employment over the last decade. These include naturalized American citizens, green-card holders, as well as undocumented workers, who “take jobs in fields that have been growing fastest, including restaurants, hotels, and stores.”

Although many businesses have stated that they will not dock immigrant employees who took the day off, the Mexican American Opportunities Foundation made it clear that they did not support the protest and sent a letter to its staff to discourage participation, going as far as to add that it would not accept it as a valid excuse for missing work.

Likewise, a letter sent out to parents by the Bakersfield. CA school board encouraged parents not to keep their children home for the day. The letter read that one of the most important things a student can do to “achieve academic success is to attend school every day,” and ended by saying “ the safety of our students is always of top priority”.

The February 16th protest was reminiscent of a similar event held May 1, 2006. Called The Great American Boycott (aka El Gran Paro Estadounidense) which called for a 1-day boycott of schools and businesses by foreign workers in the US as an attempt to show how much labor provided by illegal immigrants was needed. Supporters of the boycott rallied in major cities across the country (as well as in Mexico and parts of Central and South America) to demand general amnesty and legalization programs for illegal aliens living in the US.

While supporters called for a 24-hour boycott of stores and other businesses, it was later reported that the actions had virtually little (if any) effect on the economy at the time. However, it did succeed in killing a bill HR 4437 introduced by the House of Representatives known as the Sensenbrenner legislation, which would have made it a felony to live in the US illegally, as well as make it a crime to aid an illegal immigrant to “remain in the United States. Among its other measures was the tightening of border patrols and the requirement of up to 700 miles of double-layered fence along the United States-Mexican at points with the highest number of illegal border crossings. Although it passed in the House, the bill was killed on the Senate floor.

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