Students, workers and business owners across South Florida joined the rest of the nation in the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ strike, staging protests, skipping school and closing businesses in a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
The nationwide protest was aimed at Trump’s efforts to boost deportations, build a wall at the Mexican border and temporarily close the nation’s doors to 70,000 refugees from around the world and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations. (A three-judge federal appeals court last week refused to reinstate the temporary travel ban; Trump said Thursday he would issue a new order next week.)
In one Palm Beach County school, Highland Elementary, 437 students missed school Thursday, or 35 percent of the student body, the Palm Beach Post reported.
“We’re not sure of the reason for the absences,” Assistant Principal Erin Walsh told the Post, “but we do have a very high rate of absences today.”
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Other schools in Palm Beach County also had high absences, the Post reported.
Officials for both Miami-Dade and Broward public schools said attendance was not significantly impacted. In Miami-Dade, a schools spokeswoman said attendance was about 92 percent, compared with 95 percent the day before. Numbers weren’t immediately available in Broward.
Meanwhile, dozens of people gathered in front of Homestead City Hall to protest Trump’s policies. Homestead has a large immigrant population stemming, in part, from farmworkers working in the fields in South Miami-Dade.
Business owners in the area closed restaurants and stores NBC6 reported.
“We’re showing and demonstrating our strength and our best resources in this country, which is consuming and giving labor work,’’ participant Margarito Cruz told the station. “So, today, we’re not just not going to work or cooperating with the system but we’re also gathering to show … that everybody is in unity.”
The protest even reached the U.S. Capitol, the Associated Press reported, where a Senate coffee shop closed as employees did not show up to work.
The protests had the biggest impact on the restaurant industry, which long has been a first step for many immigrants, with its jobs for kitchen workers and servers. Sushi bars, Brazilian steakhouses, Mexican eateries and fine dining establishments in New York, San Francisco and other large cities closed for the day, either because workers stayed home or owners sympathized with their immigrant employees.
“The really important dynamic to note is this is not antagonistic, employee-against-employer,” Janet Murguia, president of the Hispanic rights group National Council of La Raza, told the Associated Press. “This is employers and workers standing together, not in conflict.”
At a White House news conference held as the lunch-hour protests unfolded, Trump boasted of his border security measures and immigration arrests of hundreds of people in the past week, saying, “We are saving lives every single day.”
The construction industry, too, felt the effects of the protest, as many construction companies employ large numbers of immigrants.
Shea Frederick, who owns a small construction company in Baltimore, showed up at 7 a.m. at a home he is renovating and found that he was all alone, with a load of drywall ready for install. He soon understood why: His crew, five immigrants, called to say they weren’t coming to work. They were joining the protests.
“I had an entire day of full work,” he told the Associated Press. “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.”