ATLANTA — At the same suburban mall where 50,000 immigrants and their supporters thunderously rallied less than a month ago, backers of immigrant rights sought to make their voice heard Monday by their absence.

Inside Plaza Fiesta, the best-known Hispanic mall in town, handwritten signs in Spanish told the few patrons why the stands were covered up and stores shuttered — “in solidarity with our people.”

Immigrants were encouraged to stay away from shops, work and school as part of a national economic protest against crackdowns on illegal immigration. But most here said they sent their kids to school and some were too fearful to risk losing what they say they came here for — jobs.

Maribel Morales, a 27-year-old mother of two from Mexico, was among the half dozen people in the mall’s lone open store, a Marshalls, but she said she was only window-shopping because she supports the boycott.

“They need to hear us,” she said. “We’re not here to steal, we’re here to work, and we pay taxes.”

Still, Morales said her husband had to go to his landscaping job because his boss told him that he would fire anybody who didn’t show up. With a 5-year-old and an 8-month-old, they couldn’t afford it.

In southern Georgia, some farmers said they had to stop the harvest because their seasonal workers didn’t come to work, but others said it was business as usual.

“We need to be going wide open this time of year to get these onions out of the field and we have nobody working today,” said Mike Collins, who has 500 acres of Vidalia onions in the Cobbtown area of southeast Georgia. “We’ve got a short time to get these onions out of the field. Losing a day in this part of the season causes a tremendous amount of problems.”

Many Latino advocacy groups, including the organizers of the April 10 march, had warned immigrants in Georgia not to risk their jobs. A march in Athens, held Monday evening so it wouldn’t interfere with the workday, drew 1,200 to 1,500 people, police said.

“I told my guys, the only people you’re hurting are yourself,” said Leo Angeles, a produce wholesaler in Forest Park who immigrated from Mexico when he was 13.

Roberto Aguilar, an Atlanta construction worker from Mexico City, said he was fired after he marched last month, but he still went out to a rally at the Capitol that drew an estimated 4,500 protesters.

“But I have a son here,” the 35-year-old said. “If we don’t come out, they’re going to paint us as criminals. We’ve only come here to earn money with the sweat of our brow.”

Others said that making America’s lawmakers realize the impact of immigrants was more important than anything else.

“I’m more afraid of being in the shadows,” said 40-year-old Carmen Guillen, a nurse and mother of two from Peru who has spent four years in Lawrenceville working as a maid.

Immigrants said they hope their voice compels Congress to give those here illegally a path to citizenship and to fight Georgia’s new law that will bar undocumented adults from receiving state benefits.

“You’ve got to back your country. We’ve got rights,” said Nelio Rebairo, a Brazilian who said he works about 80 hours a week in two north Georgia restaurants. At the rally, he proudly waved a sign that read, “I’m illegal but work very hard.”

But some feared such public demonstrations could backfire.

Adriana Gutierrez, who was rearranging the jewelry display at her stand inside Plaza Fiesta, said that while she decided to support the boycott, she wasn’t sure how Americans would react.

“It was important to close to support the people who need to be heard,” the 30-year-old Colombian immigrant said. “But it’s unclear what can happen.”

React to this story:


Recommended for you