Chanting Trump escucha, estamos en la lucha — “Listen up, Trump, we’re in the struggle” — about 100 Latino immigrants marched from the Central Carolina Worker Justice Center to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro to observe the Day Without Immigrants.
Immigrants stayed home from work and kept their kids out of school while numerous businesses closed across Greensboro, Winston-Salem and other parts of the Triad as part of the nationwide action to protest President Trump’s immigration orders.
Immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador carried signs reading, “We are immigrants, not criminals,” “I’m a proud daughter of an immigrant — no more separations,” and “Immigrants make America great” while marching through downtown Greensboro. They chanted in Spanish and English, “The people united will never be divided,” “No ban, no registry, stop white supremacy” and “Si se puede.”
Fernando Jimenez, an undocumented student at Guilford College, was one of the speakers at the civil rights museum.
“I am here to show President Donald Trump that the Latinx community will stand united because unity creates strength,” he said.
At one point, the protesters chanted in English: “Hey, let’s be clear, immigrants are welcome here,” with two variations, substituting the words “refugees” and “Muslims” for “immigrants.” Immediately afterwards, they chanted, “Black lives matter.”
Marching back from the museum, Andrew Willis Garcés, a community organizer who works with undocumented high students, remarked on a Facebook Live stream: “Not bad. I put this on Facebook two days ago.”
Several businesses that employ immigrants workers, including the grocery chain Compare Foods, closed to honor the work stoppage. Other businesses closed today included both San Luis restaurants in Greensboro, Villa Del Mar, Zapateria El Potro, La Deliciosa Michoacan and Mundo Soccer Sports.
A sign posted in the door of San Luis announced that the restaurant is closed today as “a protest against an unfair attack on our people.” The sign urged immigrants to not open their businesses, not go to work, not spend money and not send their children to school. While quoting the Emma Lazarus poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” posted at the Statue of Liberty, the sign concluded, “America was created as a destination for people who want more out of life. America was built by the immigrants of Europe running from an unjust king and unjust religion that killed its people! America has forgotten its roots but today we will march for the right to live in a nation that is made ‘stronger together.’”
Nora Murray, a spokesperson for Guilford County Schools, said absenteeism jumped by about 2,000 students across the district on Thursday — a change she said is likely attributable to observation of the “Day Without Immigrants.” Murray said the district leadership has instructed teachers to mark the absences as unexcused.
“Our board passed a resolution where we support our understanding of what’s happening, and we care deeply about what’s happening,” Murray said. “We want them to know they are welcome in our schools. We want them in our schools so we can them with a good education.”
Underscoring the district’s desire to reassure immigrant children that they are valued, Superintendent Sharon Contreras said in a statement released just after 5 p.m.: “When we (as educators) look at children in their classrooms, what we see are future scientists, doctors, lawyers and teachers. We see children full of potential, and we cannot begin to imagine why anyone would want to deny them the promise of hope and a future.”
Murray confirmed that the confidentiality of information about individual students’ attendance is protected under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and indicated she is aware of a concern among some advocates about the potential of sensitive information to be inadvertently shared with immigration authorities.
“Our schools and principals are receiving guidance,” she said. “We’re making sure that principals and schools understand students’ rights and schools’ obligations, and we’re working to provide resources for families so they can understand their rights.”
Elizabeth Acevedo, a middle school librarian who works in the Alamance-Burlington School System, left work around 11 a.m. today to demonstrate solidarity with the immigrant students at her school. While the principal and staff at her school are supportive of her action, Acevedo asked that the name of the school not be disclosed because of concern about repercussions from county-level administration considering how divided the population of Alamance County is over the issue of immigration.
Before leaving school, Acevedo posted a sign on the door reading: “Library closed: No human being is illegal.”
Acevedo said Latino and black students each make up about 45 percent of the population of the Title I school. She said some of the immigrant students, who she works with after school, have told her they are worried about their safety.
“I went to school today, thinking it was important to serve the other students,” said Acevedo, who is Puerto Rican and was born in New Jersey. “I realized what I really need to do is go home and show support for my immigrant students. I did do some translation work this morning.”
She said she doesn’t anticipate any adverse reaction from her principal.
“I think there is a lot of support from the school because of how ingrained the students’ lives are with us,” said Acevedo, who lives in Greensboro. “I chose this school because I had something to share with them because I had something unique and they could relate to me.”
Erika Hernandez and her family, who live in Winston-Salem, observed the Day Without Immigrants by staying out of work, keeping their children out of school and not spending any money.
“For my immediate family, there’s no concern,” Hernandez said. “For our fellow Hispanic immigrants, I think it’s sad [the administration is] dividing families, and they want to divide families.”
Her husband, Jose, wasn’t scheduled to work anyway, but Erika stayed home from her job at the North Carolina Eye Bank.
“I didn’t go,” she said. “They have to deal with it, right?”
Hernandez said she and her husband explained to their children why they were keeping them out of school.
“We think unity is important,” she said. “It’s one step forward.”
A previous version of this article misidentified the source from Guilford County Schools who commented on unusually high absences.
The story has been updated to include information about the jump in absenteeism on Thursday, which was released late Friday.