Some employees didn’t show up for work, some businesses closed and students stayed away from school on Thursday to show solidarity with Triangle immigrants as part of the national “Day Without Immigrants” movement.
Work slowed to a crawl at the construction site of a 17-story office tower and several apartment buildings in downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District because most of the subcontractor crews didn’t come to work, said Scott McGloin, project superintendent for Clancy & Theys Construction Co.
As part of the “Day Without Immigrants,” several protests were organized, and brought crowds to Raleigh’s Moore Square and in the parking lot of a Compare Foods grocery store off Roxboro Street in Durham. The Hispanic grocery chain announced it would not open any of its North Carolina stores, which include three locations in Durham and locations in Apex, Clayton, Henderson and Smithfield.
The protests are intended to show disapproval of swift policy shifts on immigration enacted by President Donald Trump’s administration, and to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to America’s economy.
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McGloin’s company is handling the construction of two six- and seven-story apartment buildings adjacent to a 17-story office tower being built at the old Dillon Supply Co. site, he said. The tower’s construction is being handled by Barnhill Contracting Co.
On average over the past month, McGloin said, 45 to 50 contractors and subcontractors typically show up to work on the two apartment buildings. On Thursday, about five showed up, he said.
While he hadn’t spoken to the Barnhill supervisors yet, McGloin said it seemed there were fewer workers pouring concrete and tensioning steel cables for the building’s base.
Wake and Durham county schools also saw attendance drop as students chose to participate in the nationwide protest.
Lisa Luten, a spokeswoman for Wake County Public School System, said she did not have exact numbers from across the district but said schools, including Knightdale’s Hodge Road Elementary had significant absences. Normally about 650 students are present at Hodge Road, and on Thursday about 360 students were in attendance, Luten said.
Durham Public Schools instructed principals to excuse Thursday’s absences if a parent indicated that observing the “Day without Immigrants” was an important learning experience for their child and provided satisfactory evidence, spokeswoman Janet Del Punal said.
No attendance numbers were available, in Durham but in Robeson County, which is about 100 miles south of Raleigh,sharp drops in attendance were noticed, said Robert Locklear, head of the district’s English as a Second Language services.
Roughly half of the students at St. Pauls Elementary School are Hispanic; their parents primarily work in the poultry and meat processing plants in the area, Locklear said. Of the 460 Hispanic students at St. Paul’s Elementary, 283 did not come to school Thursday.
“It’s having an impact,” Locklear said. “With the new administration, with the rhetoric, our students are scared. They don’t know what to do. They don’t want to leave home.”
Absences for the entire Robeson County school district were sharply up, too, though Locklear did not have final counts. More than 2,300 middle and elementary students were absent Thursday; that’s 50 percent more than normal daily absences for the entire district, including high schools.
“We’re trying to reassure our students. That’s all we can do,” Locklear said.
According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics or Latinos made up 9.1 percent of the state’s population in 2015, about 914,000 people; they made up 10.9 pecent of the Triangle’s population, nearly 231,000 people.
President Donald Trump has vowed to get tough with illegal immigrants by deporting millions of illegals and building a wall on the Mexico-US border. He has also proposed a Muslim ban to stop terrorism, and has issued a travel ban for seven predominantly Muslim countries that is now under review in federal court.
But in his news conference today Trump said deportations affecting the lives of children pose special concerns.
"To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not in all cases,” Trump said. “In some of the cases, ... they’re gang members and they’re drug members, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly — they were brought in here in such a way. It’s a very, very tough subject.”
Rally in Raleigh
More than 1,000 Hispanic immigrants gathered in downtown Raleigh, waving flags from Latin American countries and chanting slogans. They vowed to resist attempts to forcibly send them back to their native countries. A recurrent theme from the speakers was that Latino immigrants perform much of North Carolina’s physical labor but increasingly live in fear of being deported and torn from their families.
Organizers also encouraged children of immigrants to write direct pleas to Gov. Roy Cooper, urging him to take a more active role in defending their rights. The organizers said they registered voters and helped get Cooper, a Democrat, elected to office last November, but have heard little from him since on an issue that is so important to them.
Sheila Arias, an organizer with Mamás con Poder, said the organizers planned to deliver the children's hand-written messages to Cooper's office.
Speakers from the hustings praised Latin immigrants as law-abiding taxpayers who perform essential work in North Carolina.
Those in the crowd said they skipped work to support the immigrants.
"It's nothing compared to what they do for me," said Odalis Valerio, a Dominican and owner of OV Auto Farm in Raleigh, which employs 10 people, seven of them Hispanics, at his auto shop.
Valerio said he's a U.S. citizen and a Republican who voted for John McCain in the previous election but could not bring himself to vote for Donald Trump.
Oscar Vazquez, a 55-year-old construction worker from Mexico, said his boss let him attend the rally. Vazquez, who lives in Johnston County and has been in this country four years, said he is alarmed by Trump's politics.
"I don't want to see this country broken by extreme, anti-human policies," he said.
Lorena Amaya, 32, came from Honduras 11 years ago and lives in Cary with her husband and two children aged 2 and 15. She said she lives in constant fear because she lacks documentation and said it's an existence akin to "having no value here." Amaya, who works in dry cleaning, said she attend the rally without a supervisor’s blessing.
Kia Allah is a 32-year-old Spanish teacher in Durham attending the rally with full support from her principal. Her parents came from Puerto Rican and she teaches at Neal Middle School, where most of the Hispanic students come from families with undocumented members.
Allah said children aged 11, 12 and 13 express their worries about coming home to find their parents gone,k and live in constant anxiety. "Families are scared," she said.
Angela Salamanca, owner of Centro, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Raleigh, attended the protest in Moore Square to show solidarity and let those living in the shadows know that there are people supporting them, she said.
Salamanca first came to Raleigh in 1994 from Colombia to be near her uncle Carlos who owned North Raleigh’s Dos Taquitos. The plan was to work, earn money and try to learn English, but after six months she decided to stay and attended UNC-Chapel Hill and graduated with an art degree. Before becoming a citizen in 2008, Salamanca said she had spent time with varying immigration status and was even undocumented for a time.
“I’m a privileged immigrant, I am a citizen, I can go march,” she said. “Their reality, and their lifestyle at this moment can be taken away in a second.”
She closed her restaurant Thursday after talking with employees about it earlier in the week.
Other Hispanic-owned businesses also closed for the day, including Pahuatlan Panaderia in Carrboro.
Merritt’s Store and Grill and Root Cellar Cafe and Catering in Chapel Hill also closed to show solidarity. A notice posted on Merritt’s website said the store would be closed “due to the absence of our great Hispanic staff who make up 95% of the total of our employees.”
“They apologize for not being here to serve you and hope that you all will understand and support their decision,” the notice stated.
Root Cellar owners Susan White and Sera Cuni chose to close their doors at 2 p.m. Thursday.
The cafe relies heavily on immigrant employees who wanted to join the strike, White said. While she had spent most of the morning in the kitchen, she heard customers were “pretty supportive and patient.”
“This is our way of trying to do the best we can with a skeleton crew and allow them to participate, because they do mean a lot to us,” White said. “We believe immigrants make America great, and we believe in giving them the opportunity to make that statement, as well.”
Neighboring Kitchen restaurant was not closing, an employee said, but they did give staff the option of taking the day off. She noted that the restaurant’s owners also were making an contribution to the American Civil Liberties Union in support of the strike.
Restaurateur Ashley Christensen posted on Instagram that she would contribute 25 percent of Thursday’s sales across all of her restaurants to the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project with the NC Justice Center.
“We remain grateful for the enriching diversity of our community,” she said in the post.
CORRECTION: Previous versions of this article gave the wrong direction for Robeson County from Raleigh.
Mandy Locke, John Murawski and Anne Blythe contributed to this report