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Hampton Bays march is main LI event on ‘A Day Without Immigrants’

People march along Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays

People march along Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays to the Church of St. Rosalie on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, when boycotts of work and school occurred across the country to protest enforcement actions by the Trump administration targeting immigrants. The afternoon event was scheduled specifically so people would not miss work or school. Credit: John Roca

Some Long Island immigrants and businesses responded to a call to stay away from work, schools and businesses Thursday to protest strict immigration enforcement policies under President Donald Trump.

But the protests dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants” appeared to be a scattered effort in the region, as immigrant advocacy groups did not endorse the loosely organized campaign. The message largely spread through social media with the hashtag #DayWithoutImmigrants.

One Spanish-language flier, distributed through text messaging apps, called on people not to go to work, not to open their businesses, not to buy in stores or through internet sites, not to eat out and not to send their children to school to show the president that “without our contributions this country would be paralyzed.”

While some storefronts were closed in neighborhoods where many immigrants live and work, the main Long Island event was a Hampton Bays march that was an alternative to the boycott.

Several hundred people waved flags and held signs in the afternoon rally alongside Montauk Highway as they called for immigration reform, a halt to deportations and more respectful treatment of immigrants.

The crowd, made up mainly of Latino immigrants, massed in front of a gas station before the sidewalk march.

“I have a lot of family members and friends who are scared right now,” said Gilda Rojas, 28, of Hampton Bays. “I feel it is my duty to stand up for people in my community, whether they be Latino, Asian or Muslim. They are hardworking people.”

Demonstrators carried signs that read “Immigrants Make America Great” and “We love this nation like you.”

Immigrant communities on Long Island and across the country, where many who lack legal status fear deportation, have been on edge since Trump was elected. He has vowed to erect a wall along the border with Mexico; deport more immigrants who are in the United States illegally or with criminal records; and prevent entry of those considered to pose a terror threat. Trump has acted on those promises through a series of executive orders.

There were reports of restaurant closures in cities and towns across the country and of immigrant parents keeping children home from school.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group in Washington, D.C., that wants strict enforcement, said the boycott was “a short-term thing that won’t have much of an impact.”

Hampton Bays schools, where the Long Island rally took place, saw 75 percent attendance, below the usual 93 percent, but that was thought to be a combination of sickness, vacation and protest absences, officials said. Other districts did not respond to attendance inquiries.

Some restaurants in the region closed. At the Garden City Bistro, for example, anyone calling to make a reservation would hear the message: “Thank you for calling the Garden City Bistro. Today is ‘A Day Without Immigrants’ and we will be closed and reopen tomorrow. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.”

Elizabeth Paulino, co-owner of La Candela Restaurant, said she and her husband closed two of the Peruvian eatery’s locations in Hicksville and one in West Hempstead to back immigrant workers.

“This is all about being heard,” Paulino said. “We want people to feel and see that we, the immigrants, are very important to this country.”

Paula Zuñiga, one of the Hampton Bays march organizers, said she kept her son, 9, and daughter, 6, from going to their school.

“The community here wanted to do something that would have an impact,” said Zuñiga, 31. “Many businesses in the East End have been supporting us . . . because it’s important for people to understand that we also contribute and we are a force in this part of the Island.”

Other advocates were supporting the march and not the social media campaign, partly because they didn’t know who was behind the effort. They worried about consequences of immigrants skipping work and children missing school.

“When this whole thing went viral, we started getting phone calls from community folks,” said Dulce Rojas, an organizer with the immigrant women’s advocacy group SEPA Mujer in Islandia. “We decided to back this rally so people can say they are not afraid anymore and that they have rights.”

At the event, Anita Busby, 69, a retired teacher from Peconic, said, “I think we should have a better program to allow immigrants to become legal residents. I think the answer of throwing out and splitting up families is horrific.”

With Deborah S. Morris, Joie Tyrrell and The Associated Press

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