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USA: Day Without Immigrants to Hit Washington in the Stomach

Thursday 16 February 2017, by siawi3



FEB. 15, 2017

Photo: José Andrés, a Spanish-born chef who has tangled publicly with President Trump, will close his Washington restaurant Oyamel on Thursday as part of a national campaign to show support for immigrants. Credit Olivier Douliery/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — In a city where expense account meals are a central part of power players’ lives, some of Washington’s best-known restaurants will close their doors on Thursday in solidarity with a national campaign to draw attention to the power and plight of immigrants.

The campaign, spread on social media and messaging apps, has called for a “day without immigrants.” It asks foreign-born people nationwide, regardless of legal status, not to go to work or go shopping in a demonstration of the importance of their labor and consumer spending to the United States’ economy.

Activists and groups in cities across the country have picked up the call, reposting fliers found online, and in some cases organizing demonstrations to coincide with the event. Several activists said that they did not know how the campaign began or how many people would heed it, and that as far as they knew, there was no national organization behind it.

But the dining scene in Washington, where the new Trump administration is taking a hard line on immigration and deportation, took notice. At least a few dozen restaurants in and around the Beltway have committed to staying closed on Thursday. Others have said they would offer limited service in the expectation that many of their employees would be out for the day. Some restaurants in other cities, including several of the Blue Ribbon restaurants in New York, have joined in.

José Andrés, the famed Spanish-born chef who has tangled publicly with President Trump before, said his restaurants Zaytinya and Oyamel, and three Jaleo restaurants, all in the Washington area, would be closed for the day. In 2015, after Mr. Trump made disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants, Mr. Andrés pulled out of an agreement to open a restaurant in Mr. Trump’s new hotel near the White House, and they have since sued each other over the dispute.

Andy Shallal, a native of Iraq, said his popular Busboys and Poets chain of six restaurants in the Washington area would also close on Thursday, and he noted that he is among the more than 40 million people in the United States who came from other countries. “As an immigrant I am proud to stand in solidarity w/ my brothers & sisters,” he wrote on Twitter.

His daughter, Laela Shallal, who manages finance and marketing for the company, said employees could choose between using some of their paid leave on Thursday, or going to work to clean or organize the restaurants and offices.

“We think that this is really something that a lot of our staff feels really passionate about,” she said. “We’re taking their side, so that they feel the company they work for is living up to their values.”

Amaya Sales, a kitchen manager at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, said workers first approached management early this week about taking part. “It’s just to, like, show most of America how much important we are to do the hard work in the United States,” Mr. Sales said.

In a city with more than 2,000 restaurants, the day of closures and absences may not be enough to prevent anyone from getting a table. But given the upscale, popular businesses involved, it will be noticed.

An immigrant advocacy group, Cosecha (the Spanish word for harvest), has been planning a day without immigrants on May 1. Maria Fernanda Cabello, a Cosecha organizer, said it was not behind Thursday’s campaign, but viewed it as something of a dry run, and was working with some local groups that were promoting it.

“We don’t know where this started, and as far as we know, there isn’t anyone putting it all together,” Ms. Cabello said. “We started seeing messages about it in different cities a few weeks ago, and it’s really picked up in the last couple of days.”

Adding to the uncertainty, a variety of fliers and Facebook pages were used online to promote the campaign, some announcing demonstrations or urging people to patronize immigrant-owned businesses, while others did not.

Owners of some smaller businesses said that they supported the idea but that the campaign was too hastily organized to justify closing. Josh Phillips, a co-owner of Espita Mezcaleria in Washington, said that rather than close, he wanted to donate a portion of his restaurant’s proceeds on Thursday to the organizers of the campaign. But, he said, “we still don’t know who’s organizing it.”

Each dinner receipt, Mr. Phillips said, will be inscribed with the phrase, “This meal was made possible by immigrants.”

Ivan Iricanin, who owns Ambar, a Balkan restaurant with locations in Washington and Arlington, Va., said that after meeting with his staff on Monday, he decided to keep the restaurants open. But, he said, about seven of his 100 employees chose not to work on Thursday.

“It’s kind of a lot of questions that were unanswered,” Mr. Iricanin, 39, said, “and that’s why I think that some people are all for it and some are in between.”