Many Elgin businesses closed for nationwide ‘Day Without Immigrants’

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Signs in English and Spanish on the door at Los Comales on Elgin’s east side note the restaurant was closed Thursday in solidarity with the "Day Without Immigrants."

(Mike Danahey / The Courier-News)

Some immigrants around the United States — including in the Elgin area — stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America’s economy and way of life, and many businesses closed in solidarity, in a nationwide protest called "Day Without Immigrants."

Centro de Informacion in downtown Elgin, however, was open for the day.

"We’re the very reason the day has to be," Centro Executive Director Jaime Garcia said. "We’re here to help immigrants."

Centro’s website notes it "empowers Hispanics with the ability to effectively integrate into our greater community through the facilitation of information, education, citizenship and well-being." Garcia said the office wasn’t any busier than during other recent weeks but that things had picked up since Donald Trump’s election as president in November.

"More people are applying for citizenship," Garcia said.

According to reports, the Thursday protests were spurred by Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration, legal and illegal. Among moves since his inauguration, Trump has restated his campaign pledge to build a wall at the Mexican border and issued an executive order — now stalled by the courts — that puts a travel ban in place for those from a list of countries that are predominantly Muslim.

Last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency arrested more than 680 people, including 253 in the Midwest and 50 in the Chicago area. The agency claimed the effort was routine and that 70 to 75 percent of those brought in had been convicted of committing violent crimes.

Garcia said that reports he read stated that just one of those taken in by ICE last week was from Elgin.

While the raids might seem routine, how they differ from past ones are the stories popping up of others beyond violent criminals and gang members being arrested and deported, Garcia said.

He noted the story of an Arizona woman who was deported after appearing for her routine ICE check-in. According to reports, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos had been caught using a false Social Security number eight years ago and had been checking in with the agency since then but was sent back to Mexico recently after spending 21 years in the United States.

As for how many people and businesses took part in "Day Without Immigrants" in the Elgin area, Garcia said that was not easy to determine.

"One of the problems is the day came about very suddenly," Garcia said. "There hasn’t been much time to get the word out."

On Elgin’s east side, closed places included Velasquez Mufflers & Brakes; restaurants Los Comales, Las Gorditas De Don Angel and Cilantro Grill; La Michoacana ice cream parlors; Armando’s grocery store; and the two Elgin Fresh Market grocery stores. The Fresh Market in Carpentersville closed at 1 p.m. Thursday, according to a sign posted on the door.

"As an immigrant and in solidarity with our community, employees and families, Los Comales Elgin and Melrose park will be closed Thursday, February 16th," signs in English and Spanish stated at the Elgin Los Comales. "In these times we must remain united."

Garcia said that businesses taking part "were willing to take a hit to say what’s been happening is wrong. They were willing to take that risk."

Mary Fergus, director of school and community relations for Elgin School District U46, said districtwide attendance was down 8 percent from Wednesday, when it stood at 93 percent.

A few schools saw attendance drop close to 30 percent, Fergus said. Garfield Elementary in Elgin dropped from 93 percent to 63 percent. In Hanover Park, Laurel Hill Elementary saw attendance drop from 93 percent Wednesday to 63 percent Thursday, and Ontarioville Elementary went from 96 percent to 67 percent.

The principals with whom Fergus spoke told her that some parents mentioned their kids weren’t going in because of "Day Without Immigrants."

"It’s always the parent’s right to make that call" as to whether or not their child will go to school on a given day, Fergus said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 43.6 percent of Elgin’s population identified as Hispanic or Latino, and another 5.4 percent identified themselves solely as being of Asian descent.

Since the end of 2007, the number of foreign-born workers employed in the U.S. has climbed by nearly 3.1 million to 25.9 million; they account for 56 percent of the increase in U.S. employment over that period, according to the Labor Department. The foreign-born — who include American citizens, green-card holders and those working without legal authorization — tend to be younger and to take jobs in fields that have been growing fastest, including restaurants, hotels and stores.

Roughly 12 million people are employed in the restaurant industry, and immigrants make up the majority — up to 70 percent in places like New York and Chicago, according to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to improve working conditions. An estimated 1.3 million in the industry are immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, the group said.

The construction industry also employs large numbers of immigrants.

As for how many immigrants are living in the United States illegally, the Pew Research Center put the number at about 11.1 million in 2014. Mexicans made up about 52 percent of those 2014 numbers, but their numbers have been declining this decade. Pew reported that from 2009 to 2014, 1 million Mexicans left the United States for Mexico, while 870,000 Mexicans came to the United States.

The Associated Press and Courier-News reporter Rafael Guerrero contributed.

This article was sourced from http://entreprenewshub.com