OpEd: A Day Without Immigrants
Today, thousands of restaurants, hotels, construction companies and other businesses large and small are bracing for “A Day Without Immigrants,” a combination boycott/strike in support of the myriad contributions of immigrants to U.S. business and culture.
This grass-roots movement is in response to President Trump’s agenda, which includes a pledge to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and an ill-fated travel ban on citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.
Some businesses have decided to close for the day, while others are staying open and pledging to contribute a share of the day’s proceeds to nonprofits that aid immigrant causes and the Latino community. In a number of cases, business owners are abiding by their staffs’ wishes, after holding votes to decide whether or not to open.
The economic impact will be felt in cities across the country, where thousands of immigrants are skipping work; not shopping; not eating at restaurants, not buying gas or sending their children to school.
For me the human cost of the president’s immigration measures was brought to life after a recent conversation with a woman I interviewed for the Immigrant Archive Project several years ago. Her name is Miriam, and her story was typical of the many hundreds of stories I gathered for this project. Miriam is in her mid-thirties now. She’s a hard-working single mom who grew up in a small, rural community in Colombia.
Work was scarce and opportunities to advance were non-existent in her home town. Over the course of a one-hour sit down interview she calmly explained how she and her younger sister made a harrowing trip to the U.S.
After leaving her 4 year old son in her mother’s care, Miriam pooled what little money she and her sister had and used it to buy their way onto a flight from Colombia to Panama. Once in Panama, and their savings depleted, they walked to the U.S./Mexico border.
I remember watching Miriam’s eyes swell with tears years ago, as she recalled a moment when they walked past a movie theatre in some small Central American town. It was scorching hot under the summer sun as the sisters stopped to gaze on the theatre, wondering how nice it would be to enjoy an ice-cream cone in an air-conditioned theatre, as they had done many years before. But this time there was no money and no time to afford such a luxury.
After a weeks long odyssey, the sisters managed to cross into the United States. They survived days without food and had to fight off rapists twice on the way. But they were finally here and thankful to have crossed the border together.
That was ten years ago. Today Miriam works as a housekeeper in Miami. I reached out to her recently and we met over coffee. She has an American-born son now and spends her days wondering what will become of him is she’s deported. She’s doing her best to prepare for the worst. She recently ordered an American passport for him and cried as she filled out the paperwork stating in who’s care she would leave her son in the event of deportation. She’s basically living day to day, not knowing if this will be the day she’s detained and separated from her son.
It’s a terrible way to live and you can see it in her face. This life has taken its toll. She’s aged beyond her years. Her younger sister saw the writing on the wall years ago. Miriam thought her sister was crazy when she packed up and left Miami behind in search of a new life in Canada. She’s employed as a housekeeper in Toronto now where she feels much more at ease and welcomed than her older sister.
It pains me to hear these stories. These are hard-working, law-abiding people who offer much needed services, yet are being victimized unnecessarily. Tonight, when you see footage from these marches on the evening news, take a moment to realize why so many people are fearful and protesting an immigration agenda that is tearing families apart and doing irreparable damage to their communities.