Local immigrants join nationwide protest to prove their economic power

The sign at Las Alandros Bakery informs the public that the owners have closed in recognition of A Day Without Immigrants on Thursday.
The sign at Las Alandros Bakery informs the public that the owners have closed in recognition of A Day Without Immigrants on Thursday. Chris Barber — Digital First Media

SOUTHERN CHESTER COUNTY >> Many immigrants in Chester County and across the United States stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate just how important they are to the nation’s economy.

“This is a national movement and it is sending the (Trump) administration a message that the immigrant workforce population is needed,” said Luis Tovar, who heads up the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs in Kennett Square. “It’s to see just how well we can get along without the Hispanics, Latinos, and all-inclusive immigrants in our business community.

The “ Day Without Immigrants” protest hit all major metro areas in the U.S., including Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Houston, Chicago and New York. The protest gained momentum on social media and by word of mouth.

In southern Chester County, an area heavily populated and served by immigrants, there was only a moderate show of protest on the day designed to showcase the nation’s dependence upon them.

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Father Frank Depman, whose St. Rocco Church in New Garden serves thousands of Mexican immigrants, speculated that the reason many of the foreign-born workers who remained on the job, “balanced working for a day’s pay or not.”

The big employers of immigrant labor in general and Mexican labor in particular in southern Chester County are the mushroom companies, where they fill the positions of harvesters almost exclusively as well as tasks throughout the total labor force.

South Mill Mushroom Company Human Resources manager Iris Ayela said the company was fully staffed on Thursday, even though they workers were all aware that it had been a day declared for immigrant demonstrations.

“We were happy to see them come in,” she said.

She added that the company has a stringent application process that assures the legality of its workers as well as a strong grievance policy that addresses worker problems.

Barry Tomasetti, superintendent of the Kennett Consolidated School District where more than 40 percent of the student population is Hispanic, said he could not comment on how many students stayed out of school Thursday.

Yet while the demonstrations were designed more to point out the importance of immigrants in general to the economy, some who commented suggested that those who were undocumented took the day to stay home and out of sight.

One source close to the mushroom industry said another mushroom company owner was concerned about the work that needed to be done on Thursday, but as it turned out, only two workers failed to show.

At the local restaurants, particularly the Mexican ones, attendance was mixed.

Nancy Pena at La Pena restaurant on Cypress Street in Kennett Square said her staff had only one or two workers who called out, but there were some other restaurants around the area including Taqueria Moroleone on Scarlett Road were closed.

Nearby, Las Alondras Mexican bakery on State Street was closed with a sign in the window that said, “A Day Without Immigrants. Closed Feb. 16.”

Down the street, Arthur Garcia, the owner of Garcia Monkey auto repair garage, which prominently displays signs in Spanish, said all but two of his employees came in on Thursday.

La Comunidad Hispana, a social service agency that serves varied needs of the local Hispanic population, was open on Thursday and appeared to be carrying on its normal tasks of health and social services.

Leeann Riloff, director of development there, said as a non-profit La Comunidad does not publicly take political positions, and in that regard could not comment on A Day Without Immigrants. She said, however, that she was not aware of any gathering or demonstration in the Kennett Square area in connection with the day.

The event, however, has not gone unrecognized by La Comunidad.

The protest comes in response to President Donald Trump, whose administration has pledged to increase the deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally. Trump campaigned on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and blamed high unemployment on immigration. As president, he’s called for a ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming into the U.S.

The protest came with demands, which included:

--The removal of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from Washington, D.C.;

--Local governments must make up for financial losses from federal funds stripped from so-called “sanctuary cities”;

--The immediate passage and funding of the Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2015, which would increase the standards of language access of education and government series for all non-English proficient D.C. residents, according to Councilmember David Grosso at the time;

--The removal of the undocumented mark from D.C. driver’s licenses;

--Affirmation that Washington, D.C. will not support the creation of a Muslim registry or surveillance; and

--Cease “unchecked police violence committed against immigrants, including black people and all people of color.”

--Protection for those who participate in Thursday’s event from termination from their jobs.

Next Friday, Feb. 24, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. there will be a meeting called “Community Conversations: An Open Dialogue about Current Events” at LCH, 731 W. Cypress St. in Kennett Square.

The flier advertising the event says, “We have invited people knowledgeable in these areas to answer your questions: Immigration and deportation, our rights and responsibilities as U.S. residents, family counseling, prepare for the future.”

The flier continues, “Please join us! If you would like to submit your questions ahead of time so we are prepared to answer them, look up the event on LCH’s Facebook page.”

About the Authors

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .

Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at kennettpaper@gmail.com or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.