As part of Day Without Immigrants protests, Ogden businesses close for the day

Thursday , February 16, 2017 - 12:23 PM37 comments

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with comments from other community members who participated in Day Without Immigrants.

OGDEN — Beto’s Mexican Food typically never closes. 

It boasts 24-hour-a-day service, catering to customers day and night.

But with the recent spate of raids across the country against undocumented immigrants and President Donald Trump’s strong anti-undocumented immigration talk, owner Carolyn Aleman decided she had to do something she doesn’t do very much — close. As part of Day Without Immigrants protests all across the country Thursday, she shut down the Ogden locale and two other Beto’s she owns in the area as a show of support for the immigrant community.

Other stores in the Ogden area shut their doors as well — Coffee Links and Rancho Markets, both on Washington Boulevard, among others. Some parents in the Ogden School District even kept their kids home from school.

“I’m trying to support my people, show them we can stand together,” said Aleman, whose father immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She also shut seven Beto’s she owns in Idaho for the day.

Leon Araujo, owner of Coffee Links and originally from Mexico, defended immigrants, cited their role in the development of the country.

“This country has been formed and built up by immigrants in many places,” he said. “The majority of people who come here like work, want to advance and want to be good.”

Trump made the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico to halt illegal immigration a key message during his presidential campaign, prompting apprehension among many in the Latino and immigrant communities. Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials carried out a series of raids in California, New York, Texas and Georgia that led to the arrest of more than 680 suspected undocumented immigrants, spurring yet more concern. Many of those arrested had already been convicted of crimes like homicide, aggravated sexual abuse, drunk driving and more.

In response, businesses all across the country that are run by immigrants or sympathetic to immigrants shut their doors on Thursday, like the businesses in Ogden, which has a sizable Latino population, about 30 percent of the total.

The message is to show “that we aren’t criminals. We’re workers. We just want to work,” said Vanesa Esquivel, a Beto’s employee who showed up outside the restaurant on Thursday with Aleman and other employees to explain the protest. Trump’s crackdown, she continued, “is dividing the country instead of uniting it.”

A message taped to the outside drive-through menu at Beto’s cited the fear prompted by the president’s focus on undocumented immigrants. The Washington Boulevard eatery closed at 2 a.m. Thursday and was to reopen at 2 a.m. Friday.

“We will remain closed in a way to express our unity with the suffering of our families, desperation of our kids and the targeting of our community by federal and local agencies. We are not a race of criminals, we are a race of hard-working people that work every day to serve you the best experience, every time, all the time,” it read.

Parked vehicles blocked the entrances to Beto’s and messages covered the windows of the autos and the restaurant itself — “No more hate,” “We are not criminals,” “We want respect.” Cars passing Beto’s slowed down to read the messages.

“Many people are coming and going, taking pictures,” said Adrian Aleman, Carolyn Aleman’s husband and a native of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. “I don’t know if they’re just curious or support it, but it’s getting attention.”

‘So much fear’

Justin Gumm, owner of Slackwater Pub and Pizzeria in Ogden, said 80 percent of his largely Latino kitchen staff asked for Thursday off so they could take part in planned protests on the matter in Salt Lake City. He backs the cause, but said he and other workers would scramble to keep the restaurant open.

“We fully support them, for sure,” Gumm said. In light of the recent immigration raids and Trump’s anti-illegal immigration talk, he sees “so much fear” in his employees.

Trump, for his part, has cited the importance of safeguarding national security in going after undocumented immigrants, cited a need to get better control of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“President Trump has been clear in affirming the critical mission of DHS in protecting the nation,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a statement Monday after last week’s raids. The president directed immigration officials “to focus on removing illegal aliens who have violated our immigration laws, with a specific focus on those who pose a threat to public safety, have been charged with criminal offenses, have committed immigration violations or have been deported and re-entered the country illegally.”

Whatever the motivation, the raids spurred a sense of doom among those most directly impacted, according to Adrian Aleman. “They’re kicking everybody out. What do we do?” he said.

Tomas Dumas, another Beto’s employee, worries about families being split, with undocumented immigrant family members deported, separating them from U.S.-citizen family members. “We don’t want them to separate our families,” he said.

Carolyn Aleman, whose father is an immigrant from Mexico, worries that talk like Trump’s conveys a narrow image of immigrants as criminals and ne’er-do-wells who mean ill will. Some immigrants clash with the law, she said, but most only mean to support their families and eke out a better existence than possible in their home countries.

“I’m trying to show them that we’re not just here to take other people’s jobs,” she said. “We’re taxpayers. We contribute to our country.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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