By Brenda Flanagan
“Without us, the economy will paralyze,” said Emmanuel Diaz of United Taxi.
And to prove the economic value of immigrants, many businesses across Perth Amboy didn’t open today. Bonao’s — a usually bustling restaurant — stayed dark. Doors remained closed at the Copa d’Oro bar. And security gates stayed down at Quisqueya — a corner bodega — where business owners gathered to show their support for the Day Without Immigrants protest against the president’s immigration policies.
“This just shut down one day. It’s like ghost town in Perth Amboy. This city has never been seen like this before,” Emmanuel Diaz said.
“Can you imagine days with immigrants and what that means to the economy of our country and the economy right here at home in the city of Perth Amboy? The executive orders could cripple the economy of the small mom and pops of our community,” said Mayor Wilda Diaz.
“The people that come over here to work. To produce. We need those kind of people,” said Antonio Abreu, owner of Quisqueya Meat Market.
In a combined strike and protest, the Day Without Immigrants evolved to oppose Trump’s executive orders to detain and deport unauthorized immigrants, especially after the recent sweep by ICE agents that picked up more than 600 people.
President Trump defended his policies today saying, “We’ve begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.”
But the immigrant community has responded with fear and outrage and today across the country thousands stayed home from work or school. All Stars Daycare closed for the day and owner Jeanette Rios explained why.
“This is not only affecting bodegas and business people. It’s also affecting our children. Kids come to my day care center in tears, in fear. What’s going to happen to me tomorrow?” she said.
Immigrants comprise more than 27 percent of New Jersey’s workforce — a powerful economic engine. A report by the Perry Group notes if New Jersey removed all unauthorized immigrants, it would lose more than $24 billion in economic activity. So if individual workers opted to stay home today as part of the protest, New Jersey’s Restaurant and Hospitality Association wasn’t opposed.
“My members understand how important first-generation immigrants are, especially to the hospitality industry. It’s a very cohesive relationship. A lot of my members said if this is something you feel you need to do, we’ll support it. Just give us notification so we can fill the schedule,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association.
It’s not just the restaurants, bars and bakeries that stayed closed. All four cab companies also stayed parked in Perth Amboy today to make a point.
Owners understood the hardship — that many families send kids to school or commute to work in taxis.
“Without immigration, we wouldn’t be where we’re at. And all these years that we’ve been moving forward. It seems that lately we’ve been taking a step back,” Emmanuel Diaz said.
“A lot of people are scared to come out. A lot of people are having a hard time. So we need to support that. Those people are our customers,” Abreu said.
Perth Amboy advocates marched peacefully up Smith Street and promised there will be more protests.