'A Day Without Immigrants' observed in the Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- Several Bay Area businesses closed and some protesters took to the streets Thursday as part of a national day of protest aimed at showing how important immigrants are to the United States and to protest President Donald Trump's immigration policies.

Multiple restaurants in Oakland are closed to support the effort, which is being referred to as a "Day Without Immigrants."

In the Bay Area, thousands of immigrants went on strike and many of them were Yemeni business owners who closed up shop for the day to send a message to Trump that America wouldn't be the great country that it is without immigrants.

In San Francisco, restaurant and cafe owners ranging from Mexican to Italian to American cuisine joined the movement.

"We love this country (and) we come to this country to have a better life," said Nabil Fara, who owns the Green Apple Market in the lower Nob Hill neighborhood. "That's why we come from Yemen, running away from a bad life to have a better life in United States."

Fara said the protests were meant to show solidarity.

"We decided to shut down today to support our brothers and sisters, all the refugees in this country," said Fara, who also owns Yemeni's Restaurant with business partner Musa Jaradie around the corner.

Jaradie said Trump's actions can still be reversed if he chooses to do so.

"I believe with respect and dignity he can do the right way but calling names, saying mean things about us and Muslim people is not who we are," Jaradie said.

Jaradie and Fara have both lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years and are U.S. citizens but they say the travel ban is preventing their families back in Yemen from visiting them here in the States.

The duo says said they plan to go on strike every Tuesday until Trump pulls back on some of his strict immigration policies.

At San Francisco City Hall, hundreds of activists rallied on the front steps.

"We're here! We're loud! We're organized and proud!" the crowd chanted.

"Hey, hey! Ho, ho, deportation's gotta go!" screamed another group.

Mexican-born Joaquin Sotelo served five years and two tours of duty for the U.S. during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom but he is still not a U.S. citizen.

"The ghost of deportation is always following me," Sotelo said. When I got back from war, "I became alcohol dependent. I went through a lot of problems in my life. I made a wrongful decision, got a domestic violence case and so that is what got my deportation triggered."

Sotelo says he's gone through a rehabilitation program, served his time and his country and deserves to become a U.S. citizen.

"It's humiliating, it's depressive. It's not right," Sotelo said. "I've seen how people struggle and how I had to struggle for a year-and-a-half before I even got legal representation from an attorney. I honestly believe that United States veterans should not be going through this."

Sotelo is not alone.

According to San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Fewer, some 1,600 people are now in detention through the San Francisco Immigration Court and only 15 percent of them have attorneys to fight for them.

Fewer, who led a rally on the front steps of City Hall Thursday morning, is pushing for immediate funding for immigrant legal defense through the SF Public Defender's Office.

City officials say ICE conducted six raids in cities across the country this week, and there is a rumored executive order targeting illegal immigrants who have children who are american citizens.

The supervisors' budget and finance committee considered the legislation Thursday afternoon.

If approved, San Francisco would follow in the footsteps of New York City and Alameda County.

In Oakland, Miss Ollies, a Caribbean restaurant at 901 Washington St., and the Mexican restaurant Cosecha at 907 Washington St. were closed as part of the protest, according to each business' Facebook page.

Social media posts about the protest encouraged students to skip school today, but San Francisco Unified School District officials said they have heard of no unusual absences from their principals or any reports of
walkouts.

No walkouts have been reported at Oakland schools either, Oakland Unified School District spokesman John Sasaki said.

Ice cream shop and grocery store La Michoacana, with locations in Sonoma and Novato, is also closed today as part of the day of protest, according to its Facebook page.

A post on the company's page says that closing for a day is a small sacrifice compared to what immigrants face if they are deported.   "The strive for progress is not a crime," the post adds.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. in San Mateo County is also closed for the protest, saying on its Facebook page that the company "takes great pride in our staff and we appreciate their commitment to providing our customers
quality food and service, and we fully support our staff in honoring this movement."

KTVU.com producer Leslie Dyste and KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty contributed to this report.

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