'A Day Without Immigrants' movement spurs march, business closures in Baltimore

Hundreds gathered to parade and demonstrate Thursday in Patterson Park, while elsewhere in Baltimore notable restaurants ceased serving, businesses in Hispanic neighborhoods were closed and children of immigrant families stayed home from school.

The moves were part of an effort in cities across the U.S. called "A Day Without Immigrants," to protest President Donald Trump's stance on immigration, specifically executive orders to increase deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally, build a wall along the Mexican border and ban people from certain majority-Muslim countries from coming into the U.S.

Trump and his supporters say the policies are necessary to address urgent concerns about crime, terrorism and national security. On Thursday, Trump said he would release a new executive order on immigration, in response to a recent appellate ruling blocking an earlier order.

Thursday's protest began as a grass-roots effort in Washington, D.C., as a way to show the importance of immigrants to America's economy and way of life.

Baltimore's rally, organized by Artesanas Mexicanas, a group based at the Creative Alliance, attracted a diverse crowd: mothers pushing strollers; children and teens; artists and musicians. Hundreds marched from the Creative Alliance to Patterson Park. Chants of "Si, se puede" (Spanish for "Yes, one can") permeated the air as the crowd progressed, waving the flags of half a dozen countries.

Chetara Alfaro was there with her husband, Raul, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, and their children, Miguel, 7; Annalicia, 5; and Emilio, 2. She said she worries every day when Raul goes to work that he might not come back; some Southeast Baltimore residents have been detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.

"He provides for me and my kids, and if anything would ever happen to him, it would be a lot of hurt for me and my kids," she said. "This is a scary thing that's going on."

Raul moved to the U.S. 16 years ago.

"Immigrant communities — we are important to the economy for this country," he said. "And I'm here because I have three babies, and I don't know what happens if they send me back to my country."

Maria Gabriela Aldana Enriquez, education director for the Creative Alliance, who helped organize the march, came to the U.S. as a political asylee from Mexico in 1986. She said she was inspired to get involved following another weekend rally.

"It's beautiful to see so many businesses close today and really honoring this national and international movement of A Day Without Immigrants," Enriquez said. "What it's saying is making a statement about the value and importance of people who have been uprooted from their homes or have made the choice to come here for better opportunity for their families. And I think often times we don't hear those stories because people are scared."

Notable restaurants across Baltimore were among the businesses closed as a result of the demonstration. They included those in the city's prominent Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group, which operates Bar Vasquez, Charleston and others.

"We will not operate today in support of our staff without whom it would be impossible to operate at all. #adaywithoutimmigrants," Foreman Wolf restaurants posted on their respective Facebook pages Thursday. A spokeswoman for the group said in an email that the company declined to elaborate.

Irena Stein also closed her three restaurants, Alma Cocina Latina in Canton, and Alkima and Azafran on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus. Stein, who is from Venezuela, said she made the decision to close after hearing from staff who planned to attend Thursday's rally.

"Everybody should be very active about protecting the word 'immigrant' and protecting the freedom that always has existed here," Stein said.

Losing a whole day of business at all three properties was not easy financially, she said. But as an immigrant, she felt compelled to take a stand against the fear-mongering surrounding immigration within Trump's administration.

"It's the treatment of it all that's ugly," she said. "They are using the word 'immigrant' in a very unclear, confusing, ugly way."

Customers were largely supportive, she said.

Other restaurants that closed Thursday included Cafe Cito, the Local Fry, Dovecoat Cafe, Sweet27 Bar, Sweet27 Bakery and Cafe, and Ekiben.

Ekiben's owners expressed a similar sentiment.

"As immigrants and the sons of immigrants, the three owners of Ekiben have chosen to stand in solidarity with those affected by recent laws limiting immigration to our great country," a post on Ekiben's Facebook page read. Nick Yesupriya, one of the owners, declined to comment further.

Several hopeful customers who came to Ekiben for a steamed bun or rice bowl Thursday were understanding, and in some cases supportive, of the closure.

Jimmy Matesevac, a produce wholesaler based in Lancaster, Pa., was in Baltimore on business Thursday and found Ekiben was closed when he tried stopping there for lunch.

He said he was familiar with the protest prior to Thursday and had friends in the food industry standing in solidarity with the movement.

"The role that immigrants play in our food system is huge, from harvest to execution of venues to running of restaurants, to front of house, back of house, you know — these are people who feed America, and I think that that's really important to observe," Matesevac said.

Restaurants weren't the only businesses closed. Along Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, storefronts ranging from a Cricket Wireless store to the Laundromat Lavanderia were closed for the day.

Local schools felt the impact, too.

When Vance Benton, the principal of Patterson High School in East Baltimore, heard large numbers of his Hispanic students might be taking Thursday off, he called them into the auditorium for a meeting before they left school on Wednesday. He said he told them, "If you are doing this, make it meaningful. Make it a work day, not a day off from school.

"If you aren't writing letters to the people who have the power, then it means nothing. If you are not calling people who have power, then it means nothing. That is what you need to do," he said he told them. "I am supporting your will to have your voice heard, and if you guys are doing that, be united. Be one voice."

He also told them the only way they can have a long-term political impact is to come to school and get an education, he said.

Patterson students are about half immigrants, many of them Latino. Most students who have just arrived to the U.S. take classes on the third floor, which was nearly empty Thursday, said Margot Harris, the head of the academic program for immigrant students at the school.

Benton said students were fearful that they would be picked up by ICE at the school. He told them if ICE agents do not have a warrant, he will not give them information about his students.

Councilman Zeke Cohen, whose district includes Fells Point and Highlandtown, said the ICE sweeps are undermining public safety.

"What they've done is forced a community that already has a fragile relationship with law enforcement to go further underground," he said.

He said the city council is crafting an action plan to combat the raids. "The challenge is ICE is a federal agency, so we do not have direct jurisdiction over them," Cohen said.

A spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh did not return requests for comment Thursday.

Protests against Trump are set to continue. Strike4Democracy, a group of online organizers, is coordinating more than 100 general strikes across the nation and in Mexico Friday, according to its website. The strikes are in defense of "America's democratic principles" in the wake of Trump's travel ban and the "attacks on the rights of workers, women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community."

Participants are encouraged to stay home from work and school, spend the day assembling with like-minded individuals or engaging in community service, and refrain from spending money.

"The Wire" creator David Simon has been promoting Friday's strike and hosted a fundraising protest against Trump's executive order Monday night.

"I don't know what anyone else is doing, but my production company is shut and I'm pencil down. Not spending," he said in an email. "I'm in [New York] this weekend for some work stuff ... and thought I'd spend some of the day picking up trash in Riverside Park."

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie and Brittany Britto and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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