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Thousands in Sonoma County skip school, work to support ‘Day Without Immigrants’

On the corner of West Avenue and Sebastopol Road in the predominantly Latino Roseland neighborhood, about 20 people stood on the sidewalk in front of Dollar Tree chanting “Keep out ICE,” holding placards with messages of support for immigrants and their families.

The small rally was initiated by high school students from Roseland Collegiate Prep who stayed home from school to participate in the national “Day Without Immigrants” protest of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

The protesters were just a few of the thousands of students and employees who stayed away from schools and businesses Thursday across Sonoma County. Hundreds of businesses were closed and there was even chatter on social media of boycotts of businesses that didn’t participate in the protest, said Marcos Suarez, business diversity program manager with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

More than a thousand students stayed home in the Latino-dominated Roseland Public Schools district, along with more than 1,300 student in the Santa Rosa City Schools district. Sonoma Valley Unified School District saw a 33 percent reduction in attendance.

The “Day Without Immigrants” comes on the heels of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arresting a DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, recipient Feb. 14 in Tacoma, Washington. The event helped spur a movement that spread across the country largely through social media and word-of-mouth.

DACA is an executive order issued by former President Obama in 2012 protecting from deportation nearly 800,000 people who arrived in the United State unlawfully before they were 16 years old. Trump has been ambiguous on whether or not he supports protection of undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

“We need to speak up, we can’t be afraid,” said Namiko Mendoza, a 24-year-old resident of Roseland and student at Santa Rosa Junior College who attended the Sebastopol Road rally. “I came here from Michoacan with my pregnant mother when I was 7 and I’m a recipient of DACA. I’m not scared, I’m only concerned about the animosity this is creating.”

From the small demonstration on Sebastopol Road, students and other protesters walked to Santa Rosa City Hall and submitted a list of demands to a city employee. The demands included specifics on policy, like support of SB54 that would restrict law enforcement in California from sharing information with federal immigration authorities.

Beyond the Roseland protest, things were quiet throughout the county, but that was largely the point. The name and spirit of the “Day Without Immigrants” protest comes from the 2004 film “A Day Without A Mexican,” said Teresita Fernandez, owner of La Michoacana Natural Ice Cream in Sonoma and Novato, who kept both of her stores closed for the day. In the satirical film, all the Mexicans in California disappeared and the resulting economic impacts created both chaos and comedy.

“The day isn’t as much about marching in the street as it is showing the positive impacts immigrants have both economically and socially,” Fernandez said.

It will take a few more days to see the full extent of the economic impacts, Suarez said, as it’s still unclear how many people stayed home from work at hotels and other service and tourist-based industries. Census data show there are more than 5,000 Latino-owned businesses in Sonoma County.

“A lot of information is still coming in,” he said. “We don’t know all of the effects yet.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com.

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