When Marisol Cervantes was 16 years old, seeking work and a better life, she walked for a week, crossing the desert to enter the United States from Mexico.
It was illegal, she knows, and she continues to try for citizenship.
On Thursday morning, the 33-year-old working mother of three stood, microphone in hand, at the edge of a crowd of 400 to 500 protesters on the south plaza of Kansas City’s City Hall, as part of “A Day Without Immigrants.”
It was a show of force, with protests organized in cities nationwide, from San Francisco to Houston to Boston. Organizers urged immigrants to skip work and not spend money to show how critical immigrants are to life in the U.S. and the national economy.
Dozens of Kansas City area businesses closed for the day, and some students stayed home.
Cervantes, speaking in Spanish, told the crowd that she works nights in a factory and is rearing three teenage children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. Her husband was deported not once, she said, but twice, and, now in Mexico, has not seen his children since 2013.
“I’ve been here for 17 years. … This is my country,” Cervantes said later in an interview, adding that since the election of Donald Trump she has “lived in fear.”
Across the plaza, immigrant workers, almost exclusively Hispanic, stood beneath a statue of Abraham Lincoln. They held banners while chanting “Somos America,” meaning “We’re America,” or “Si, Se Puede!” (“Yes, You Can!”). They carried placards and homemade signs with messages such as “Solidarity” and “We Are All America,” “Immigrants Make Great Americans” and “We are Chasing the American Dream.”
Cervantes’ 13-year-old daughter, Sol Lopez, who skipped a day of middle school, held her own reading, “Lost One Parent, Don’t Want to Lose Another.”
Largely peaceful, the protest was marked by three arrests, police said. One was for a protester blocking the street. The second arrest involved a protester spitting on an officer. The third occurred when another individual attempted to interfere with that arrest.
“A Day Without Immigrants” came in response to President Donald Trump’s administration and its stance on immigration and refugees. Trump has long pledged to increase deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally, and he has vowed to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Trump late last month signed an executive order to temporarily bar refugees as well as citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from coming into the U.S. Key parts of that order were blocked last week by a unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Justice Department said Thursday that it would not seek a rehearing of that decision. The department claimed that the panel’s decision was riddled with errors but said that whatever flaws the judges saw in the executive order would be addressed in a new executive order.
Trump said in a news conference Thursday that he would issue the new order next week.
A list circulated on Facebook naming close to 100 Kansas City area businesses that were either closed as a result of the protest or had employees who were not showing up for work in support.
Jeffrey Lehane stopped for tamales at San Antonio Carniceria y Tortilleria, 830 Kansas Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., late Thursday afternoon. Surprised to see the place closed, he was nonetheless supportive when he learned the reason.
“I’ll make sure I come by here and shop extra,” Lehane said. “My thoughts are that there are millions of immigrants in the country. Can you imagine if they stopped providing services for us?” He looked across the street at El Pollo Rey, a barbecue restaurant.
“Is El Pollo closed too?” he wondered. “Yeah, no smoke’s coming out of the chimney.”
Cars rolled into its parking lot only to find that it, too, was shut.
Although a McDonald’s restaurant at 4427 Shawnee Drive in Kansas City, Kan., was not closed for the day, a manager there said it did plan to close early Thursday night, at 11 p.m., because the restaurant was unable to field an overnight complement of workers.
At West Side Local, 1663 Summit St., a sign explained that the restaurant was closed for the day because “we stand in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters and believe they are the fabric of what makes America (and this restaurant) great!”
But that was not the case directly next door at Los Alamos Market y Cocina.
“Closed? No. Why?” asked owner Augustin Juárez. “Even when my dad died, I didn’t close for my loyal customers.”
His father, he said, died eight years ago. The market was busy all day Thursday, he said.
‘We are together’
Lianana Esperza, 34, skipped her job at a Kansas City area bakery to attend the downtown rally at Kansas City’s City Hall with her husband and their two children. Husband Ricardo, 37, missed a day of work in construction.
“We are here to stop all the racism and the deportation of Mexicans,” Lianana Esperza said in Spanish, translated by her 9-year-old son, Alexis.
Alexis and his sister, 6-year-old Giselle, were among scores of children on the square who were missing school. Some 30 percent were absent Thursday from the Guadalupe Center’s charter preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school. The schools serve a student body that is almost exclusively Hispanic.
Brenda Garcia, 18, a junior in high school in Grandview, came to the protest with her sister, Antonia, 12, and their mother, Lilia Castillo, 33, who normally works the day shift at a shirt factory.
Garcia said that she, too, lives in greater fear ever since the election.
“If she gets deported,” Garcia said of her mother, “what are we going to do?”
Castillo and at least 20 other employees at the shirt factory did not go to work Thursday, she said.
Jose Marquez, 24, opted to miss a day as a window washer at a company that, he said, employs many Hispanic workers.
“We have to show the country we are together,” he said.
Reyna Carbajal, a 41-year-old worker at Burger King, also took the microphone at the protest. A supporter of the movement calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and unionization of many low-paying jobs, she stirred the crowd.
“I’m not just a worker,” she said in translation of her speech. “I’m also a wife, a mother and, very soon, I will be a grandmother. I’m an immigrant. … My vision for America is a country where immigrants feel safe, protected and we can be productive and our contributions are valued.
“Immigrants are not the enemy of Americans. We are America.
“We are stronger together.”
The Star’s Glenn E. Rice and Mará Rose Williams contributed to this story, as did The New York Times and The Associated Press.