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February 19, 2017

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Some stores in Las Vegas close to recognize immigrant protest

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Christopher DeVargas

A La Bonita Market store is among businesses in the Las Vegas area that closed in support of the national Day Without Immigrants protest on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.

Updated Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 | 2 p.m.

Day Without Immigrants Protest

High school student Kathia Suarez holds up a sign as she protests with others outside the Grayson County courthouse in downtown Sherman, Texas, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. In an action called Launch slideshow »
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A sign on the door of a Mariana's Supermarket announces the store will be closed for Day Without Immigrants on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.

This morning at the popular Latino grocery Mariana’s, Las Vegas resident Marisela Torres was surprised her car was one of just three in the normally packed parking lot.

Torres, who is originally from Mexico and shops at Mariana’s for tortillas, meats and vegetables, found the store at 4151 South Eastern Ave. closed as part of the national Day Without Immigrants protest.

Immigrants nationwide skipped work and school to demonstrate their importance to the U.S. economy, while many businesses closed in solidarity.

The protest was aimed at President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration, legal and illegal, by such means as a wall at the Mexican border.

“We’re part of the community, and we contribute to making Las Vegas what it is,” Torres said in Spanish.

Mariana’s store owner Ruben Anaya said the closing was less political and more of a show of support for the majority of Hispanic workers who wanted to participate in the boycott.

“It just picked up a lot of momentum this week, and we decided it’d be the right thing to do,” Anaya said. “They’ve supported us since Day 1, and we’d be nothing without them.”

Mariana’s wasn’t the only Las Vegas store closed today.

Six La Bonita stores, another popular Latino grocery chain, were closed for the day to “support the cause,” a spokeswoman said.

The closings frustrated North Las Vegas resident Antionio Arellano, who said he stops by La Bonita about twice a week to buy groceries. Walking up to the door of the store at 2672 Las Vegas Blvd. North, Arellano read a sign advising of the closing and shook his head.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but this is kind of annoying,” he said.

Next to La Bonita, Rigo’s Taco #8 was serving up tacos, burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas, like any other day. The taco shop’s manager, who did not want to be named, said he supported the effort but was working because he needs to.

“At the end of the day, you have to make money and make sure ends meet,” he said.

Another popular Latino supermarket, Cardenas, said its four Las Vegas stores would remain open throughout the day.

In Chinatown, businesses seemed to be operating normally, with neon “open” signs illuminating the Asian restaurants and stores along Spring Mountain Road, west of the Las Vegas Strip.

Several Chinatown business owners said they hadn’t heard about the Day of Immigrants and didn’t have any plans to close early.

“Nobody told me about that,” said Yi Chenguang of the Fat Dumpling restaurant.

Nonetheless, she said she supported the cause. “Sure, I think anything that could help immigrants in the future is a good thing,” she said.

At a couple of Las Vegas area schools, meanwhile, more students than normal were out, but, for the most part, there were no unusual attendance reports, Clark County School District spokeswoman Michelle Booth said. Rancho High and Hyde Park Middle schools saw “an unusual dip in attendance,” she said.

“I have not heard anything so far that would suggest a large-scale boycott,” she said this morning.

Elsewhere around the nation, the heart of Philadelphia’s Italian Market was uncommonly quiet. Fine restaurants in the nation’s capital and New York closed for the day. Grocery stores, food trucks, coffee shops and taco joints in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston shut down.

The protest even reached into the U.S. Capitol, where a Senate coffee shop was among the eateries that were closed as employees did not show up at work.

The day’s activities also included rallies in several cities.

Marcela Ardaya-Vargas, who is from Bolivia and now lives in Falls Church, Va., pulled her son out of school to take him to a Day Without Immigrants march in Washington.

“When he asked why he wasn’t going to school, I told him because today he was going to learn about immigration,” she said, adding: “Our job as citizens is to unite with our brothers and sisters.”

Organizers appealed to immigrants from all walks of life to take part, but the effects were felt most strongly in the restaurant industry, which has long been a first step up the economic ladder for newcomers to America with its many jobs for cooks, dishwashers and servers.

Since the end of 2007, the number of foreign-born workers employed in the U.S. has climbed by nearly 3.1 million to 25.9 million; they account for 56 percent of the increase in U.S. employment over that period, according to the Labor Department.

The foreign-born — who include American citizens, green-card holders and those working without legal authorization — tend to be younger and to take jobs in fields that have been growing fastest, including restaurants, hotels and stores.

Roughly 12 million people are employed in the restaurant industry, and immigrants make up the majority — up to 70 percent in places like New York and Chicago, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to improve working conditions. An estimated 1.3 million in the industry are immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, the group said.

In Chicago, Pete’s Fresh Market closed five of its 12 grocery stores and assured employees they would not be penalized for skipping the day, according to owner Vanessa Dremonas, whose Greek-immigrant father started the company.

“It’s in his DNA to help immigrants,” she said. “We’ve supported immigrants from the beginning.”

Carmen Solis, a Mexico-born U.S. citizen, took the day off from work as a project manager and brought her two children to a rally in Chicago.

“I feel like our community is going to be racially profiled and harassed,” she said of Trump’s immigration policies. “It’s very upsetting. People like to take out their anger on the immigrants, but employers are making profits off of them. “

Tony and Marie Caschera, both 66, who were visiting Washington from Halfmoon, New York, thought a tapas restaurant looked interesting for lunch, but then realized the lights were off and the place was closed.

“I’m in support of what they’re trying to say,” said Marie Caschera, a registered Democrat, adding that immigrants are “fearful for their communities.”

Her husband, a registered Republican whose family immigrated from Italy before World War II, said he supports legal immigration, but added: “I don’t like illegal aliens here.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.