Nation Sees Effects of 'Day Without Immigrants'

Small grocery stores closed in New Jersey, prayer vigils were held in Florida and workers took to the streets in New Orleans on Monday, as the effects of a nationwide economic boycott by immigrants became evident.

The aim is to showcase how much immigrant workers contribute to the U.S. economy, as Congress debates a plan to legalize millions of them. Various churches and immigrant-rights groups are backing the boycott as a way to continue the momentum built by massive immigrant marches in the last month.

The boycott takes place even as some in the immigrant-rights movement have expressed fears that the measure could backfire. Some advocates worry that immigrants will lose their jobs as a result. (In the past month, hundreds of immigrants were fired after missing work to take part in marches.)

Others fear a backlash. Earlier marches turned off some members of Congress, who say that the sight of masses of people who had violated immigration law marching and demanding more rights made them less sympathetic to the cause of undocumented workers.

A look at the boycott across the country:

Atlanta: Stores, stands and food courts were shut down at Plaza Fiesta as people gather for immigrant-rights demonstrations. Handwritten signs in Spanish said the stores in the metro-Atlanta area were closed because owners support their own people. Outside the empty mall, a group of about 25 immigrants from north Georgia gathered to travel to the state Capitol for a rally. They told the Associated Press that they sent their children to school today, but feel that, as adults, they need to make their voices heard.

California: Backers of legal reforms benefiting illegal immigrants flocked by the thousands to California rallies, boycotting jobs and businesses. Throngs gathered at the state Capitol in Sacramento, marched on Oakland's International Boulevard and filled blocks of Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, creating a sea of red, white and blue as they waved American flags. Capitol marchers carried such signs as "Do not bite the hand that feeds you" and "Full rights for all immigrants." In Los Angeles, signs read, "Immigrants are workers, not terrorists" and "I love this country, I just want to stay."

Only a shoe store was open in a three-block section of Broadway in Los Angeles, where demonstrators gathered for a march. Elsewhere, some restaurants posted signs saying they would be closed or cut back on service. Morning rush-hour traffic in usually congested Southern California was mostly light as people either supported the boycott or just stayed away to avoid possible traffic tie-ups.

California authorities had urged students to stay in school, but there were numerous absences. The Santa Ana Unified School District, for example, reported 3,000 middle-and high-school students missed class.

Chicago: At least 50,000 immigrants and their supporters gathered for a rally in Chicago's Grant Park Monday afternoon, and the crowd continues to build, according to Chicago Public Radio's Michael Puente. The Chicago demonstration kicked off with a morning rally at Union Park, west of downtown.

Florida: In early demonstrations, about 1,200 people marched in the rural city of Homestead, home to one of Florida's largest Mexican-immigrant populations and to many major growers of fruits, vegetables and nursery plants. Some farms in Homestead gave workers the day off. Bravo Supermarkets, a Hispanic-owned chain in central Florida, said it would close for the day to encourage customers to go to rallies.

In Fort Myers, Fla., about 300 to 400 people turned out for a counter-rally in a downtown park, according to Valerie Alker, a reporter for public radio station WGCU. The event was organized by a conservative radio talk-show host. Also at the event were about 1,000 empty chairs, representing people who could not attend because they had to work. They paid to rent the chairs to show their support.

New Jersey: Small grocery stores closed, traffic thinned and the business districts in some of New Jersey's smaller cities virtually shut down. In Camden, most bodegas were shuttered. In Bound Brook, the traffic was noticeably down. And in Trenton, several hundred people gathered, wearing white shirts and carrying American flags in one of the state's biggest rallies.

New Orleans: An immigrant-rights rally in Armstrong Park in New Orleans started with only a few hundred people Monday. But by midmorning, it had grown markedly, with police at the scene estimating turnout at close to 2,000.

New York: Calls to New York City schools suggested that attendance was down, though official numbers were unavailable, NPR's Mike Pesca reports. Small businesses were closed in some parts of the city, and suburban worksites normally crowded with day laborers remained empty. Protesters formed human chains throughout New York City's five boroughs and planned an afternoon rally in Manhattan's Union Square.

Texas: Thousands of people rallied at Houston's Memorial Park in support of immigrant rights. About 200 demonstrators marched outside the North Dallas office building where U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has his Dallas office. The Texas Republican has opposed proposed compromises that would offer a road to U.S. citizenship for many illegal immigrants. Other protest rallies, boycotts and demonstrations are planned in Houston, Dallas, Lubbock and other Texas cities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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