Most sunny weekday afternoons you can find Merritt’s Store and Grill in Chapel Hill packed with hungry customers with hankerings for a BLT. But Thursday, instead of bustling, all you could hear was a car or two whizzing past on Columbia Street.
Merritt’s was silent and its doors were closed. All for a national strike, also known as A Day Without Immigrants.
UNC grad student Molly Figueroa drove to Merritt’s to meet a friend, and didn’t realize the business would be closed. She said she hadn’t experienced any other closings yet that day.
“This is the first thing I’ve experienced so far in North Carolina,” she said. “But I support it. So, I’m still going to come to Merrit’s.”
Other local businesses also chose to close in support of their immigrant employees. El Centro Hispano was one of them. El Centro President and CEO Pilar Rocha-Goldberg said it’s an important time to show support to the immigrant population.
“We give a lot to the country and the community,” she said. “Not only with our jobs but also how we give to the community in general because we give back in so many ways. So, I think it’s like… giving a statement of how we are part of the fabric of the United States.”
Rocha-Goldberg said there has been fear in the community for the past few days, as rumors have circulated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would set up checkpoints in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham.
So far, there have been no reports to back up the rumors.
“I think the more our local government and our law enforcement agents are out there saying, ‘This is not true. We are not doing the checkpoints.’ And be more transparent with those, and everything, that really will help at least the day-to-day of the community,” she said.
Mark Dorosin is the Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. He said many people don’t realize or appreciate the contributions that immigrants make in local communities every day… but they should.
“One of the interesting things always has been the challenge that has been made by anti-immigrant groups to employers,” he said. “But the fact is that employers have shown over and over again that these folks are invaluable workers and resources to the success of their economic operations.”
Rocha-Goldberg said El Centro will continue to offer support for immigrants even after the strike is over. And that many are already looking for resources.
“Phone calls… some people come into the organization, to El Centro to seek guidance and talk,” she said. “So, we are organizing some Know Your Rights forums with some lawyers and the local government also to let people know where we stand—where they stand… and how they can be prepared and how to expect right now.”
El Centro is planning two forums in Durham for next week. One will be Tuesday and one will be Thursday but they’ll both begin at 6:00 P.M. Employees are also working on organizing similar forums for Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.