America Faces 'A Day Without Immigrants'

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A Latino day laborer reads a May 1 boycott flyer. Credit: Getty/Alex Wong. i

A Latino day laborer reads a May 1 boycott flyer handed out in Annandale, Va., on Saturday by community organizer Arnoldo Borja. Alex Wong/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty
A Latino day laborer reads a May 1 boycott flyer. Credit: Getty/Alex Wong.

A Latino day laborer reads a May 1 boycott flyer handed out in Annandale, Va., on Saturday by community organizer Arnoldo Borja.

Alex Wong/Getty

Throughout the country, immigrants are being urged to boycott work, school and shopping Monday. The nationwide effort is called "A Day Without Immigrants." It's intended to draw attention to the importance of immigrants in American life. But not all immigrant groups support the action.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Across the country today, immigrants are expected to stay home from work and stay away from shopping in an economic boycott. The aim is to showcase how much immigrant workers contribute to the economy as Congress debates a plan to legalize millions of them.

Various churches and immigrants' rights groups are backing the move as a way to continue the momentum built by massive immigrant marches in the past month. Christine Newman-Ortiz is one of the organizers of today's rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Ms. CHRISTINE NEWMAN-ORTIZ (Organizer of Immigrant Rally, Milwaukee, Wisconsin): It's really a life and death issue for this country, about the direction that we're going in. And we think equality and justice is the direction it should go in, as opposed to criminalization and extreme exploitation of millions of workers.

MONTAGNE: Still, dozens of other groups across the country oppose the boycott and worry about a backlash. NPR's Jennifer Ludden joins us now. And, Jennifer, what's the impact of this boycott expected to be?

JENNIFER LUDDEN reporting:

Well, Renee, big enough that in the past few days, we've already had a number of companies announce, preemptively, that they're going to be shut today. A number of meat import processors that have big plants in the Midwest with lots of Hispanic workers, including Tyson's, said they're just closing. They didn't want to have to deal with what to do if their workers didn't show up.

In Los Angeles, Koreatown, largely Hispanic workers there, is expected to be largely shut down. You know, immigration law firms across the country say they've been deluged with calls from clients, business clients, in a quandary about what to do. I know some companies that feel they can't afford to lose this day have had meetings pleading with their employees to please show up.

But I do think that the impact will be undercut, to a degree, by increasing calls not to boycott. We've had counter calls from people worried about the effect of this, including a number of those Spanish-language radio DJs who helped get people out on the streets for large marches a few weeks ago. They're saying, please go to work today.

MONTAGNE: And they're saying that because why--speaking about a backlash, the idea that workers should work?

LUDDEN: Well, first of all, they're worried people might lose their jobs. We had hundreds fired after missing work to take part in some of these marches in the past month and then, yeah, the fact that it might backfire. The earlier marches, apparently, really turned off some members of Congress, for example; and if you listen to them, some of their constituents. They say the sight of, you know, masses of people who have violated immigration law, marching openly, demanding more rights, made them less sympathetic to the cause.

So here we've had the Hispanic chambers of commerce coming out. And this area of DC, certainly Latino lawmakers, at the state and local level, and a variety of groups against today's boycott--they are calling for a day of civic action. And they've got events scheduled to sign up voters, to register voters, sign petitions to members of Congress, and they want to make it a, you know, day of unity.

I spoke with one Hispanic businessman who had planned to shut down his company. He was very passionate about showing the impact of Latinos on the economy and he had changed his mind because of this pressure not to shut down and says he's, frankly, very confused.

MONTAGNE: And, Jennifer, originally, there was a call for students to stay home from school. Where does that stand as of this morning? I know here, in Los Angeles, some DJs are saying go to school.

LUDDEN: It's very controversial because of, you know, few weeks ago, we had days and days of walkouts there in the Los Angeles area. I think they are trying to encourage students to stay in school, though. At one point, L.A. teachers were told if your students do leave, you should go with them as a matter of safety, keep them off the streets.

In Maryland, for example, there's this different issue. Rumors have been flying that immigration agents would be showing up today to round up undocumented students who did show up to class.

MONTAGNE: Well, most of this is aimed at influencing what happens in Congress. What next there with immigration?

LUDDEN: The Senate has the ball in their court. The Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the issue again, probably not before next week. There've been some small signs that a compromise is possible that could get legislation passed in the Senate. But then, of course, it faces a conference committee with the House. And the differences there are still quite large. It will be interesting to see how today's events, however they end up playing out, the way it may affect lawmakers.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jennifer Ludden, who has been following the immigration issue, thank you very much.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

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