February 16th became “A Day without Immigrants” across the nation with thousands of immigrants closing local businesses and not working to demonstrate the impact the work they do has on our country. Cities that were particularly impacted by this shut down were Los Angeles, Atlanta, Austin, Albuquerque, Dallas, Washington D.C, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York City, Boston, and many more. According to some reports, as many as 80 cities were impacted by this day. This grassroots movement started online, but a flyer was distributed encouraging any and all immigrants, as well as undocumented people, to not go to work, open up their local businesses, shop online, buy gas, and even send their children to school. According to the New York Times, the attendance rate at public school in Austin Texas dropped by almost 40 percent. The largest industry impacted was the restaurant industry and for a logical reason: according to CNN statistic in 2015, immigrants accounted for 7.1 million of the nation’s restaurant workers. The largest chain restaurant impacted by this demonstration was McDonald’s.
Several people tweeted or reported on social media that their day was thrown off track after attempting to get their morning coffee or breakfast from McDonald’s but could not. One Twitter user tweeted, “Tried to get a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, closed. Went to next one, closed. I don’t need coffee #ADayWithoutImmigrants.” The larger picture that she may have been missing is that she does need immigrants, not that she does not need coffee. Another user tweeted, “@McDonalds Your store in New Brighton, MN is closed because of Immigration protests. I’m going to @SUBWAY for breakfast instead.” According to CNBC, this single day shutdown could affect McDonald’s first quarter sales since their business is already less successful than it was in the first quarter of last year.
While the impact was large, and felt in major cities all over the world, it may be said that their message was not quite heard. It was reported that over 100 of the same immigrants that protested were fired on returning to work the next day. This is sad and unfortunate because it is the opposite of what they were fighting for. Right wing reporters on FOX News had a conversation about the protest, making remarks such as, “Yeah, get that, if you walk out of work you get fired.” FOX News correspondents and likeminded individuals often use the word “lazy” or “irresponsible” to describe immigrants; even our very own president referred to immigrants, specifically people coming from across the Mexican border, as “rapists, and drug dealers”. While this quote has already been disproven by multiple sources, one could argue that immigrants work twice as hard to learn a new language, go to school, and work support themselves while doing it. Second generation and beyond citizens have the privilege of a family that has already established their lives and can focus on supporting their children, while immigrants do not.
While it may seem easy to point to the current presidential administration and say this protest was aimed directly at them, recent events should be cited as well. During the Obama administration, approximately two and a half million illegal people were deported from American soil. That number is higher than any president in US history. For the past eight years, families have been torn apart. The fact that this administration is more vocal about not wanting new people to enter our country does not change the fact that they are continuing these types of actions. In fact, Time Magazine reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security is drafting new guidelines to “aggressively detain and deport immigrants living in the US illegally, according to a pair of memoranda signed by DHS Secretary John Kelly.” This administration has set a tone that their tactics for immigration and boarder control may be more aggressive than the previous administrations.
The Day without Immigrants strived to demonstrate their value as an entire percentage of the population, not just as individuals. They wanted to show that immigrants are chefs, construction workers, college professors, taxi drivers, government employees, housekeepers, agricultural workers, and masons; immigrants are just people. What’s more, the National Foundation for American Policy conducted a study in March of last year observing immigrants founded more than half of all companies worth $1 billion. Out of the 87 companies worth over one billion dollars, non-American born people built 44. The biggest example of this is Google, cofounder and now CEO of Google Alphabet, Sergey Brin, was born in the Soviet Union, which is no longer a country. Can you imagine a world without Google? According to the Small Business Association, immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to export their goods and services.
Sometimes living in the “Bryant Bubble” so to speak can be difficult; it becomes so easy to get caught up in homework and studying that nationwide protests such as this one do not have an impact students personally. However, the Day without Immigrants is very simple to break down to a level that even college students can understand. According to the Bryant website, 7.1 percent of the undergraduate class of 2020 is comprised of international students from 24 different countries. The top five countries international students at Bryant come from include India, China, Ecuador, Turkey, and Venezuela. On a national scale according to the Institute of International Education in the 2015/16 academic year 1,043,839 internarial students were enrolled in American universities. Many, if not all international students, are able to study in our country on a student visa, and do not hold US citizenship. While statistics on the number of naturalized citizens who earned their degree in the US are hard to come by, in 2014 only 654,949 non-US citizens were naturalized according to the most recent statistic from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Basic math will show that there are more international students who study in America, than there are people who become American citizens in a year.
What does this mean? The Day without Immigrants protest was doing more than just sending a message to the current administration that they are unhappy. People held signs against building a wall on the Mexican border, and were unhappy that there have been actions taken to defund sanctuary cities. Even though the travel ban has been temporarily blocked, people are still fighting to keep the Middle Eastern travel ban from restricting family members from crossing into US territory. Thousands of people demonstrated to show that America, a country founded by refugees and immigrants, is still successful today because of the labor and knowledge that they bring to our country. America continues to be a country that accepts those who are not accepted by their homeland. It may be difficult to imagine many countries that immigrants come from do not even allow their citizen the right to hold a protest such as this one. The first amendment to the US constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It seems this right has been exercised during the early days of the 45th President’s administration, but that right is part of what makes America great, and part of what makes immigrants proud to call themselves American. Si se puede.