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'Kitchens are empty': Twin Cities marks 'Day Without Immigrants'

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Eva Marquez rides on her father Marco's shoulders.
Six-year-old Eva Marquez waves the flag of Mexico while riding on her father Marco's shoulders during a protest for a "Day Without Immigrants" in St. Paul on Thursday. "This is her third demonstration," Marco said,"it's important for her to see how people can get together and make change."
Evan Frost | MPR News

 Updated: 1:58 p.m. | Posted: 11:26 a.m. 

Several dozen restaurants across the Twin Cities were shuttered or short-staffed Thursday as part of a nationwide rally designed to show how important immigrants are to daily life. Workers in other industries also took the day off to participate in the day of action and protest.

Protest leaders say "A Day Without Immigrants" is a response to President Trump's immigration agenda, which includes a pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and toughen the federal government's approach to people who enter the country illegally.

The day of closed restaurants culminated in a protest from the Mexican consulate in St. Paul to the State Capitol, which included more than 1,000 people by the time it ended. 

More than 1000 protesters march toward downtown St. Paul.
Protesters head down east 7th Street toward downtown St. Paul, Minn. on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Immigrant workers make up a significant part of restaurant operations in the Twin Cities. With immigrant workers out, some eateries closed for the day while others tried to make due with fewer workers. 

The owners of the Sonora Grill on Lake Street in Minneapolis said they decided after talking with employees that they should close for the strike. 

"As immigrants, we should all do this together and not spend any money so this movement can really be felt," according to a statement posted on the restaurant's Facebook page. 

Many other restaurants in the Twin Cities also decided to close on Thursday, ranging from the entire Mercado Central, a Latino mall in south Minneapolis, to the Hard Times Cafe, a vegetarian cooperative. 

Adrian Ramirez, an owner of restaurants that serve both American and Mexican food in Minnesota, said many of his about 150 employees chose to participate in the strike today, and later attended a march in St. Paul.  

Indigenous dancers lead a group of protesters to the Capitol.
Indigenous dancers lead a group of protesters up to the steps of the Minnesota state Capitol.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"Someone who commits a crime or something, they have to go," Ramirez said. "But the people who are here to work, and they pay taxes, they've got to stay." 

Melanie Krzebietke, manager at Colossal Cafe, said she was short-staffed at all of her Twin Cities locations because most immigrant workers were out the strike. "Kitchens are empty," she said. 

When people complain about immigration, she said she tells them they shouldn't go out to eat anymore, because so much of the food scene is made up by people who born outside the United States. 

"They are our structure, they are some of the best cooks we have, they are very hard workers along with us," Krzebietke said. "They fill the empty spaces that no other American will fill."  

The day of action was not limited to people who work in food service. Eloi Reyes, who immigrated from Mexico, took the day off from his job in lighting to join in the action even though he knows it may threaten his job. 

"I do everything right. I'm an immigrant, yes, but I pay my taxes, I help the community, I live in a wonderful neighborhood, I do the best I can," Reyes said. "We're humans. We have to support each other." 

Angie Villalobos, who works as a medical assistant, was born in the United States but said her parents are from Honduras and El Salvador. She said she was protesting during her lunch break because she thought it was important right now to support her community. 

"We're not illegal here," We're here to support America and make America a better place," Villalobos said. "We're here to support our families."

A study by Corrie in 2008 found that Minnesotans of Mexican origin alone added about $6.5 billion to the state's economy. 

"Suppose today if African immigrant healthcare workers and Asian doctors walked out of the system, nursing homes would be paralyzed, the health care system will crumble," Corrie said. "Or if we look at manufacturing, food processing, construction, if those workers walked out, again, what's going to happen to those sectors of the economy?"