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UPDATE: Students rally, workers don't show up, businesses close on 'Day Without Immigrants'

Day Without Immigrants protesters marching Thursday in St. Paul. (Richard Chin / Pioneer Press)

ST. PAUL -- More than two dozen Twin Cities restaurants were closed Thursday and hundreds joined a march as part of the nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” strike protesting President Donald Trump's immigration policy.

The march began at 10:30 a.m. at the Mexican Consulate on St. Paul's eastside and made its way to the Minnesota state Capitol. The campaign also encouraged immigrants to refrain from dining out and making purchases today.

Restaurants and other businesses around the United States also shut their doors and thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of cities across the country.

Activists called on immigrants to stay home from work, avoid shopping and skip classes in "A Day Without Immigrants," an effort to highlight the vital role they play in American society. About 13 percent of the U.S. population, more than 40 million people, are foreign born, according to census data.

In the Twin Cities, St. Paul institutions El Burrito Mercado and Boca Chica Restaurant & Taco House were closed, as were Blue Plate Restaurant Co. sites and St. Paul's Black Sheep Pizza.

"Since we are a family of community restaurants, we listened to our community. And believe we are strongest when we are united. Because of that, we've chosen not to be open tomorrow," stated a post from Blue Plate Restaurant Co.'s Facebook page for Bottle Rocket in St. Paul.

In addition to Bottle Rocket, Blue Plate restaurants closed Thursday include Groveland Tap and Highland Grill in St. Paul; The Freehouse, Mercury Dining Room & Rail, The Lowry, Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis; Edina Grill in Edina; and 3 Squares in Maple Grove.

"What a powerful message! My classroom is empty!" a teacher at St. Paul's Highland Park Middle School tweeted.

Nearly half the students were absent from a St. Paul charter school Thursday. At the preK-6 Academia Cesar Chavez, about 200 of the 460 students did not show up for classes, executive director Bondo Nyembwe said.

The school had sent a letter to families Wednesday assuring them that school would be open as usual.

“It’s their constitutional right whether they want to come to school or to protest. At the end of the day we have work to do,” Nyembwe said.

More than 90 percent of Cesar Chavez students are Hispanic, according to state enrollment data.

In southwestern Minnesota, students in Worthington also protested and a major employer saw many workers absent.

Approximately 100 students were gathered Thursday morning along Clary Street in Worthington holding signs that, among them, read “Brown and proud” and “Fight ignorance and not immigrants.” Students began arriving as early as 8 a.m., and several remained present until the end of the school day.

District 518 sophomore Mariela Castañeda was the organizer of the march. She noted that the goal was to bring awareness about equality to the school and community.

“We are just protesting for equality,” Castañeda said. “It's a day without immigrants. We are not participating in school, work or any activity.”

“We are trying to make a statement that we are equal and it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from,” freshman Kiara Castañeda said. “America was built on immigration.”

A Venezuelan descendant, junior Stephanie Lowry-Ortega, explained that the aim of the march was to grab the attention of the student body, not the administration’s. She explained that after Trump’s election, negative racial comments have increased toward immigrant students and or students who descend from immigrants.

More than a hundred workers at Worthington’s largest employer, JBS, didn’t attend work Thursday morning. According to a female JBS employee who declined to be identified, approximately 160 employees were absent.

“I didn't go to work today because I want them to realize that Hispanic people do contribute to the economy,” she said. “Maybe each one gives something small, but all together is significant. … We are just hard-working people.”

The employee added that supervisors notified the workers who planned to be absent Thursday without justification would receive a warning, or that more serious measures could be put in place.

JBS Plant Manager Brad Hellinga declined comment Thursday afternoon.

The protest was prompted by Trump's vows to crack down on illegal immigration and his executive order, which was put on hold by federal courts, that temporarily banned travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Immigrant rights' groups expressed alarm after federal raids last week in which more than 680 people illegally in the country were arrested.

Trump will replace the suspended executive order in the near future, according to a court filing by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In Washington, D.C., more than 50 restaurants were closed, including high-end eateries run by the celebrity chef Jose Andres, who is embroiled in a legal dispute with Trump after backing out of a deal to open a restaurant in the president's new Washington hotel.

At the Pentagon, about half a dozen food outlets were forced to close after staff members joined the protest, including a Starbucks, a Taco Bell and a Burger King, according to a Defense Department spokesman.

Sympathy marches and rallies were also held in cities including Raleigh, North Carolina and Austin, Texas. Thousands joined demonstrations in Chicago and Detroit.

Fast-food workers in cities including Kansas City took part in support rallies, according to the "Fight for $15" campaign backed by the Service Employees International Union, which advocates for a higher minimum wage. The union said it was not officially involved in organizing the action.

"Most people who come to America are just working," said Fernando Garcia, who was born in the United States but closed his Chicago-area solar fan business in support of his employees. "They can deport the criminals, but that's a very small portion of people who come here."

The protests were the latest in a series of actions by women's groups, immigrant groups and other activists since Trump took office.

This article contains information from Reuters and reporter Martina Baca

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