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Thousands in Hall participate in national ‘A Day Without Immigrants’ protest

POSTED: February 16, 2017 8:17 p.m.

Protesters hold up signs in support of A Day Without Immigrants Thursday on the corner of E.E. Butler and Jesse Jewell parkways in Gainesville.

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Thousands of Hispanic students stayed home from school. Hundreds of Hispanic workers did not report to their jobs. Businesses in Hall County’s Hispanic community kept their doors closed. It was all in support of A Day Without Immigrants national protest Thursday.

The show of solidarity was meant to send a message to leaders throughout the nation about how critical the immigrant population is to the U.S. economy and way of life.

Ruffino Toribia closed Restaurante y Taqueria Lupita that’s been open for almost five years to show his support for the day of protest. Customers who showed up to the restaurant at the Vista Al Cielo strip mall on Atlanta Highway found a sign on the front door that read in Spanish, “Today we join the cause of a day without Latinos.”

“I hope this leads to something good that will benefit everyone,” Toribia said. “We need comprehensive immigration reform so that people can come out of the shadows.”

Toribia’s brother, Manuel, also helps out at the family-owned restaurant. He said the goal of  Thursday’s protest is to show that Hispanics make a big contribution to the economy.

“We lost a day’s wages, but the state and federal government lost thousands of dollars in tax revenue,” Manuel Toribia said.

Another restaurant owner, Luis Sepulveda, closed Haydee’s Cafe, at 3204 Atlanta Highway, where he serves Mexican food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sepulveda said his six employees supported his decision to shut down for a day.

“It’ll hurt me right now,” Sepulveda said of his decision. “In the long run, I hope it will help us all.”

Ana Alvarado, an employee at Patty’s Hair Salon, located at 1784 Atlanta Highway, said she watched the TV all day because no customers walked through the door.

“Many of the businesses around here closed today,” Alvarado said. “I think this protest is going to make an impact. Without Hispanics, a lot of labor in this country doesn’t get done.”

More than 6,000 public school students in the Gainesville and Hall County school systems failed to show up for class, officials said.

And some of those who showed up at Gainesville High School still found a way to advocate for Hispanics.

Juana Alfaro, an 11th-grader at Gainesville High, said “Trump can’t deport us all.” That’s why she participated in Thursday afternoon’s anti-Trump protest at the school.

“It was made to show that we're all in this together. Hispanic, black, white, Asian, it doesn't matter,” Alfaro said.

Mirta Jimenez, 16, decided to attend the rally on behalf of her parents.

“I wanted to stand up for my mom’s rights, because she wasn’t able to participate, but the main reason was because my dad was taken away from me when I was only 10 years old,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez’s father was deported.

Students were released after their third-period class to the “instructional focus” portion of the day, where students who need tutoring can get it. For students who don’t need tutoring, it’s a free period, so they weren’t technically missing class.

They gathered by the big red elephant, between the library and Career, Technical and Agricultural Education building, and the rally was over by 2 p.m.

Alfaro said not every student participated. She said most participating students were calm, but a few students were throwing water bottles and small rocks.

Gainesville High Principal Tom Smith sent out an email Wednesday regarding the boycott to faculty and staff members.

“These are always very tricky situations to navigate,” Smith wrote in the email. “I hope our students chose to attend school tomorrow and stay in class all day, but things don’t always play out like we hope … We have chosen the wait and see approach … I hope this is the right decision, but you never know about these things until the 3:30 bell rings.”

Smith said some students were grateful for being able to exercise their right to protest.

“Like anything of this nature, there were those who were very appreciative of the opportunity to have a voice and there were those just glad to be outside and have a chance to be loud,” Smith said.

“I had several students who came to my office to say thank you for not trying to run them off and giving them a brief moment to express themselves. Everyone left when asked and went to their fourth-period class.”

Hall County Schools spokesman Gordon Higgins reported that 4,183 of the district’s 11,524 Hispanic students were absent Thursday, which accounted for 77.7 percent of the school system’s absences for the day. Hispanic students account for 42.6 of all students in the system.

The typical rate of absenteeism at county schools is 5 percent of the total enrollment of 27,055, or about 1,352 students. It was almost four times that much Thursday.

In the Gainesville school system, 90 percent of the 2,295 students absent Thursday were Hispanic, according to district spokeswoman Lynn Jones. She said the day before only 406 students, or 5 percent of total enrollment, missed classes.

Higgins said the Hall school district was aware through social media that many Hispanic students would be staying home because of the protest.

“Given that information, the district had prepared our principals for a possible spike in absenteeism,” Higgins said.

Protesters gathered at the corners of Jesse Jewell and E.E. Butler parkways Thursday from the afternoon through early evening. Gabriella Gonzalez started the protest at 4 p.m. Her father is an immigrant from Mexico. She is from San Antonio, Texas, and has lived in Hall County for 16 years.

“Why not make your voice heard?” she said. “There are people out here voicing for others that can’t.”

Sheri Torres, Gabriella Gonzalez’s mother, was also part of the protest.

“It’s not right, what they’re doing. Wanting to deport them, separate families,” Torres said. “A long time ago there were no borders … We’re supposed to be one nation under God, but it seems like everybody isn’t being very Christian or following what they should.”

Edwin Perez, who was also part of that same protest, also challenged the current political climate in regard to immigration.

“I feel like it’s not right,” Perez said. “I know some immigrants do bad stuff but not all of them, for you to deport every single one of them.”

Fieldale Farms President Tom Hensley said early estimates of absent employees were around 10 percent, or roughly 300 employees. Later in the day, Hensley said the number dropped to about 4 percent, double the normal amount.

“People came in late, I guess, to make a statement, but we’re basically running full,” he said.

Hensley said the company would speak to each person Friday to find out the reason for missing work.

“Of course, we encourage everyone to come to work so they can get paid and support their families,” he said.

Times staff writer Nick Watson, copy editor Steven Welch and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


RS88: February 16, 2017 2:56 p.m.

Of course, virtually no one has a problem with "immigrants." It's the "illegal" part that troubles many Americans.

YoMama: February 16, 2017 3:39 p.m.

WHo Cares?

kayak: February 16, 2017 5:26 p.m.

I care. I care that we need an immigration system that works, is doable, and doesn't take years to complete. I care about my neighbors, their lives, and their children.

redeemed: February 16, 2017 5:35 p.m.

Yes, immigrants are a good thing. But not illegal immigrants!

johnalanshope: February 16, 2017 6:14 p.m.

I also care about the hard working families and children who are being frightened and often separated from their mothers or fathers by recent immigration raids.

Citizens have a right to care or not to care about immigrant children. It's a free country. What I find hard to understand is how Christians who claim to follow Jesus can not care. I can't see Jesus ever allowing "law" to trump "love".

There have always been good and bad laws, as well as good and bad ways to enforce laws.

dgabell: February 17, 2017 6:48 a.m.

History will show the protesters yesterday hurt themselves more than the community.
The immigrants that bother me are the ones that don't come here to share in America's success story of following the rules and working hard. They bring their old way of life. Their efforts are to make America just like the place they left. English is a lot of families if a secondary language not the primary.

EyesWideShut: February 17, 2017 7:46 a.m.

Its amazing how everyone is in an uproar about the "immigration" issue(s)...Trump is doing what he said he was going to do. I have dozens of Hispanic friends and definitely love a good taco. Every president since Carter has signed an executive order in regards to immigration. I do not understand why its been so radically opposed towards Trump. I do not have an issue with someone trying to make a better life for their family just do it legally. Pay taxes, pay your own medical expenses and live happily ever after. Our veterans are homeless and we are allowing it to happen. Instead of whining and crying; be part of the solution. Trump is crass and often speaks or tweets with out thinking i agree but WE voted him in to office and hes doing exactly what he said he was going to do!!!He's been in office for a month. Its amazing how all the people show up for protests all over the country to rally around this issue but we have so many other problems like racism, inequality and the affordable care act. I just want to be able to take care of my family, go eat mexican food several times a month and see a few of my immigrant friends. I will ask about their families and enjoy my food. So that pretty much sums it up....ttfn

whatsthat: February 17, 2017 8:56 a.m.

I didn't notice

CCO: February 17, 2017 8:59 a.m.

If you are here "illegally" you should worry. Every other nation on this planet deports period and finally we are following suit. If you are here "legally" then assimilate. Capitalism, English and Christian values are a mainstay of this nation and have been for over 200 years. Just look at the last presidential election as proof.

jt: February 17, 2017 9:13 a.m.

The immigrants that didn't go to school and work in Gainesville only hurt themselves, the businesses listed in the article are catering to the Latino people. Only thing accomplished was lack of their own revenue.
Teachers probably enjoyed the lighter classrooms.

ThatIsLife: February 17, 2017 9:34 a.m.

The Times put this story on FB yesterday. There were many comments made on the story and they were all negative towards the immigrants doing this. Two Latino's (per their FB names) who tried to make counter arguments which were highly put down. I would say from the number of people who were against the immigrant population via their comments that this day off by the immigrants actually had a negative impact on our area. One person even commented (via their own FB page) that everyone should now not frequent the Mexican restaurants in protest.

observer21: February 17, 2017 11:28 a.m.

I don't agree with the kids not going to school. Most of the children don't understand the "purpose" of the protest. Specially kids that are not passing classes, they stayed home, that is so irresponsible from the parents. The article reads "thousands of Hispanic students stayed home from school. Hundreds of Hispanic workers did not report to their jobs." which means that it was more kids out of school than people out of work. Why they didn't protest when the previous President was in the office, under his administration it was when most people got deported. He has a record, but nobody did a protest. I think they should legalized all students with DACA, the ones that are really focused, and all the hardworking illegal immigrants should be legalized, all criminals should go back home; because we have enough american criminals. I think they wasted their time yesterday.

KeyLimePie: February 17, 2017 2:39 p.m.

Keyword: ILLEGAL

myview: February 17, 2017 5:53 p.m.

Probably more than anything that can help these people is an education. So how do you get educated? Helps to attend school. Why miss school when school is provided FREE OF CHARGE by people trying to help you. You have to at least try to help yourself.

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