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Rome residents join national protests on 'Day Without Immigrants'

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The call went out on social media Thursday afternoon and about 40 Rome residents answered.

The hastily assembled group gathered on Broad Street at Second Avenue, waving signs and the U.S. flag, to join protests across the nation called A Day Without Immigrants.

“We were talking about going down to Atlanta, but then we decided we should do this where we live,” said Alexisis Hernandez.

Without a permit, they couldn’t stay on the corner, so they marched down Broad to City Hall — “We’re just out walking,” said Cristian Cavasoz, with a smile. Chanting slogans such as “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” and “Love, not hate. Make America great,” the group garnered honks of support from some passing drivers.

Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America’s economy and its way of life, and many businesses closed in solidarity.

The boycott was aimed squarely at President Donald Trump’s efforts to step up deportations, build a wall at the Mexican border and close the nation’s doors to many travelers.

In Rome the majority of Broad Street marchers were Hispanic, but about a third of them were white or other people of color. Mike Jenkins and his wife, Cheryl Jenkins, came out as members of One Community United.

“We’re here showing support for our Latino friends,” he said.

Cavasoz said many immigrants without papers do jobs U.S. citizens reject, yet they’re being rounded up and deported. Hernandez expressed anger at Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweeps targeting spouses and parents of U.S. citizens.

“They’re tearing families apart,” she said, and added a vow of continued activism. “This (march) is just the first step.”

A number of Latino groceries and restaurants in Rome also closed in solidarity, and taxi services parked their vehicles in front of La Mexicana Supermarket on Shorter Avenue in a show of support. They would not hit the road again until midnight, said Francisco de la Cruz, owner of Rome Taxi.

De la Cruz, who is a permanent legal resident, said he’s not aware of any ICE roundups in Rome so far, but they want their voices to be heard before they start.

“We’re not protesting President Trump or the government,” he said. “We’re asking him to help fathers and mothers get legal documents.”

De la Cruz said they approve of the deportation of immigrants who commit felonies because “everybody pays” when there are drugs and crimes in their community.

But he also said everyone gains when there are immigrants with jobs, paying taxes and contributing to the local economy.

“We take people to work, we take people to their doctors. We work hard 24 hours a day to serve the people in Rome,” he said.

De la Cruz said he’s also a bail bondsman, and the bind illegal immigrants are caught in is typified by those arrested for driving without a license.

“I ask why they did it and they say, ‘I have children. I have a wife. I need to bring food home. I need to pay my rent,’” he said.

Since the end of 2007, the number of foreign- born workers employed in the U.S. has climbed by nearly 3.1 million to 25.9 million; they account for 56 percent of the increase in U.S. employment over that period, according to the Labor Department.

The foreign-born — who include American citizens, green-card holders and those working without legal authorization — tend to be younger and to take jobs in fields that have been growing fastest, including restaurants, hotels and stores.

Many people who skipped work will lose a day’s pay or worse, and many student absences will not be excused. But organizers argued that the cause is worth the sacrifice.

Carmen Solis, a Mexico-born U.S. citizen, took the day off from work as a project manager and brought her two children to a rally in Chicago.

“I feel like our community is going to be racially profiled and harassed,” she said of Trump’s immigration policies. “It’s very upsetting. People like to take out their anger on the immigrants, but employers are making profits off of them.”

Staff Writer Diane Wagner contributed to this report.