Establishment media widely reported Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants” protest against President Trump’s enforcement of immigration laws, but how much of an impact did the boycott actually have?
“It was a big deal for the reporters, who are paid to cover this sort of thing,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
“I don’t think the rest of the American public really noticed all that much,” he told WND.
The establishment media coverage focused largely on shuttered restaurants at lunch time in the nation’s capital and in largely urban areas such as Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. Some schools and daycare also were closed.
John Zittrauer, the manager of Burger Tap & Shake in D.C., was hoping the closure of restaurants near Pennsylvania Avenue and on K Street, where many lobbyists work, would be noticed by the Trump administration but acknowledged he was “not optimistic.”
According to the Labor Department, the number of foreign-born workers employed in the U.S. has risen by nearly 3.1 million to 25.9 million since 2007.
But Mehlman said the Day Without Immigrants was a relatively small action comprised mostly of people who are in the country illegally.
“I’m not sure a lot of legal immigrants participated in this, because they’re not affected by these enforcement actions,” he said.
“And by and large the American public supports immigration enforcement. It’s one of the reasons Donald Trump is president.”
The national grassroots strike and boycott targeted Trump’s intention to step up deportations, build a wall at the Mexican border and temporarily stop travel from seven terror-producing countries.
Mehlman said the American people “have recognized for a long time that having millions of people working here illegally is undermining the interests of American workers, undermining their wages.”
“And they’re happy that the administration is actually doing some kind of meaningful enforcement,” he said.
Mehlman observed the advocates of illegal immigration have been trying to conflate legal and illegal immigration for a long time.
“I’m sure there was some legal immigrants who were participating, for their own reasons. But for the most part, legal immigrants are harmed by illegal immigration as much, if not more so, than people who were born here,” he said.
“It’s very often their jobs and wages that are being affected, their children’s schools,” said Mehlman. “So, I don’t know that there is huge support, even among legal immigrants, for protecting people who are in the country illegally.”
Restaurant industry collapse?
The Washington Post cited a Pew study that found 11 percent of all U.S. restaurant and bar employees are illegal aliens, which at current industry employment levels translates to about 1.3 million people.
In some places, according to Pew, the percentage of illegal-alien workers is much higher, such as New York, Florida and the Southwest.
Saru Jayaraman, a labor activist and the founder of the worker group Restaurant Opportunities Center United warned in a Washington Post story on the protest that the “restaurant industry in major cities would absolutely collapse without immigrants.”
Becki Young, a D.C.-based attorney who specializes in immigrants in the restaurant industry, agreed.
She told TheBlaze that the point of “Day Without Immigrants” was to show that “our economy wouldn’t function without immigrants” and the restaurant industry especially would crumble without them.
“I don’t think that’s a debatable point,” Young said after the protest.
Mehlman was skeptical.
“We’ve heard these kinds of alarmist statements before,” he told WND. “Restaurants existed before we had large-scale illegal immigration. The economy adjusted to the presence of people who are in the country illegally. It will adjust to them leaving the economy as well.”
He said that, for the most part, illegal immigration has been a form of subsidized labor for many employers.
“They get to dictate the wages and working conditions, and then everybody else has to subsidize the real costs,” he said.
“There may be a small savings that is passed on to the consumer, but you’re also paying a lot more in taxes to provide for all these human services that these people who are working illegally and their families require,” Mehlman explained.
“Maybe you save a nickel on a cup of coffee, but if you’re spending an extra dime in taxes to provide education, health care all of these other things, what have you really saved?”
Mehlman noted the enforcement actions carried out in the first four weeks of the Trump administration have been relatively small, targeting criminal aliens and people with outstanding orders of deportation.
Over time, he said, more people will be removed from the country for violating U.S. immigration laws, “because that is what the law requires.”
“The difference (from the Obama administration) is this administration has said you don’t have to be a serious felon in order for us to deport you,” Mehlman said.
Along with workers in big cities, some school children also found it more difficult to get lunch on Thursday.
At Skinner Middle School in Denver, local KDVR-TV reported, many parents were called by their children after reports the cafeteria workers had walked off.
Some parents were bothered, KDVR said, after finding out orders from Burger King and McDonald’s were being brought in by the dozens to the school.
“Nobody knew about it. You got your kids calling you in the middle of the day saying there is no food. So yeah, it’s an inconvenience,” on parent told the station.
Officials with Denver Public Schools, however, said the cafeteria workers returned in time to serve the hot lunches.
At the Denver school Escuela Tlatelolco, only 40 of the schools 145 students were in class Thursday, and Denver Public Schools said attendance was estimated to be down about 5 percent from the previous day.
Mehlman noted the immigrant strikes have been tried before and “for the most part it backfired on the organizers.”
“The American public doesn’t really appreciate those who are here illegally trying to shut down the economy,” he said.
“This is not something, for the most part, people respond to positively. I doubt the response of the American public is going to be positive this time, either.”
On May 1, 2006, millions stayed home from work and school in protest of the proposed Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which aimed to strengthen immigration laws and border protection measures.
After the strike, Tribune Media recalled, Carl Horowitz, director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project at the conservative National Legal and Policy Center observed: “Our economy is just too big and diverse for any group, no matter how well organized, to have much of an impact.”
Consumer experts say boycotts usually don’t have much impact and argue it’s easy for consumers to become distracted by so many campaigns happening at once.
“We’re just overrun with boycotts at the moment,” said Northwestern University professor Brayden King. “We may be starting to see boycott fatigue.”
Assessing Trump: ‘Meaningful enforcement’
Asked to assess Trump’s performance to date on immigration, Mehlman said the president “has certainly taken the first steps toward demonstrating that he is sincere about enforcing immigration laws.”
He said that while four weeks is a short time to make an assessment, “it seems like he is taking this seriously, and it’s the first time in a long time we’re actually going to see some meaningful enforcement.”
Mehlman said illegal aliens are “responding rationally to the fact that we’re now enforcing our immigration laws.”
“Just the perception that there’s a meaningful effort to enforce the law does change how people behave,” he said.
“And that’s really the best way to go about it, to change people’s mindset.”