Hundreds of protesters marched in the hand-clenching cold Thursday in Washington to mark the Day Without Immigrants, a national movement that prompted some businesses to close their doors in solidarity with immigrant workers.
The demonstrations follow a series of executive orders and immigration enforcement operations around the country under the new Trump administration that have left the immigrant population — those with the proper documents, those without, and those in between — skittish about their future in the U.S.
Among the protesters Thursday, was Marcos. The 34-year-old restaurant worker held up flags large enough to wrap around his 12-year-old son, who marched beside him along the 3-mile route. He stitched together the sky blue and white flag of his native Guatemala on one side, and the red, white and dark blue of the United States, where he has lived for the last 12 years on the other to form one.
The undocumented cook took a risk some of his colleagues didn’t. Unlike high-profile restaurateurs in the D.C. area who closed their businesses for the day so their workers could participate in the strike and demonstrate how substantial foreign-born workers are to the U.S. economy, managers of the restaurant where Marcos works didn’t support them.
“Other (workers) wanted to come, they were told if they did they would be fired…” he said. “I like to be here showing support. If they fire me, I’ll find another job.”
He felt that standing up for immigrants’ rights was worth it, and with his son’s mother, they agreed that the three of them would march together.
A largely Latino crowd walked from Washington’s historically Latin American neighborhood of Mount Pleasant south to the headquarters of the city’s government, shouting slogans like “A people united cannot be divided” in English and Spanish.
At an estimated 14 percent, the city has a slightly higher concentration of immigrants than the country as a whole
Andy Shallal, an Iraq-born businessman, is among them. He’s one of the Washington restaurant owners who supported his employees by shutting down the six locations of his local chain, Busboys and Poets.
“We have to stop thinking of immigrants as just pawns in a bigger picture for political gain. We have to think of them as human beings like all of us are,” Shallal said.
Around the country, businesses closed and pro-immigrant protesters took to the streets to challenge a series of decisions by the government that targeted foreign-born residents.
But not all immigrants agreed that a Day Without Immigrants showed how important foreign-born workers are.
Esther Shadare, 35, a Nigerian-American family physician who lives in neighboring Maryland, said she hadn’t heard of the protest, but felt differently about how to prove the same point that immigrants are integral to the county.
“With the job that I do, I’d be hurting people more than I’d be hurting the government” if she took the day off, the doctor explained. Instead, the idea that she’s showing up, every day, to care for others, best demonstrates how important she is to the U.S. It conveys a message, she explained: “I’m here. I’m treating you. I’m diagnosing you. You need me.”
VOA’s Arash Arabasadi contributed to this report.