As hundreds of thousands of immigrants staged protests Monday in response to recent proposed strict legislation on undocumented immigrants and to promote immigrant appreciation in general, Princeton, which features a significant Hispanic workforce, felt the effects of what was observed as "A Day Without Immigrants."
The grassroots campaign, largely organized word-of-mouth, impacted area restaurants and builders, two industries that typically rely heavily on immigrant labor.
And while some businesses were forced to make ends meet with a reduced staff, the protest, as depicted in the nationwide media reports leading up to and after the event, were largely successful in drawing attention to issues that have long plagued undocumented immigrants:
"I think we're achieving a growing awareness in the public mind concerning the beneficial role of the undocumented immigrant," said Maria Juega, chair of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF). "The myth that it's only the greedy employers exploiting them who are the beneficiaries of their work is false: it's the entire society that benefits," she said.
The economic contributions of immigrants, Ms. Juega added, not only through their work contributions, but the feeding of the economy through consumerism, needed to be spotlightedan effort, she said, that has been successful.
Nassau Street's Triumph Brewing Company, with half of its employee base of Hispanic origin, had holes to fill in virtually every facet of its operations, from kitchen staff to waiters.
But Eric Nutt, Triumph's public relations manager, said the stance of the ownership was supportive: "We decided as a team that we are going to support our employees and allow them to attend yesterday's celebrationbasically we had very few people here."
The owners and the restaurant's executive team took responsibility for much of the daily on-the-floor operations, he said.
In addition to local boycotts, several hundred immigrants gathered at City Hall in Trenton as part of the day's rally to show the impact of the country's approximately 12 million undocumented workers, including an estimated 350,000 in New Jersey alone.
"We have to underscore the huge size of this population and the economic weight that it carries and how it could affect and disruptas it didthe operations of many sectors of the economy," Ms. Juega said, citing the impact levied on the food preparation, agricultural, and restaurant economic sectors.
Also on Monday, Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) held an in-office event showcasing his opposition to the Sensenbrenner-King Bill in the U.S. House, whose tougher proposals for immigrant legislation have created a backlash.
Roger Martindell, an immigration attorney who is also a Councilman in Princeton Borough, said he thought the widespread protest could lead to reform: "Monday demonstrated the political and economic clout of the immigrant community.
"If politicians hear it, it could lead to reform."
The LALDEF will hold a rally at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 6, outside Nassau Presbyterian Church on Nassau Street, followed by a show with Guatemalan music and other traditional dances inside the church. Additionally, the LALDEF will open an office at Nassau Presbyterian to assist individuals with immigrant matters, as well as providing support to immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship. The office will be open 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. For more information, call (877) 452-5333.
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