“Sí, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”) they chanted while standing at the top and bottom of the steep hill adjacent to the Plaza Fiesta parking lot on Buford Highway.
Hundreds of Hispanic and Latino people, many with small children, waved poster board signs, American flags and flags of their home country as cars drove past along the busy corridor, many honking in support. Three Chamblee Police officers parked their vehicles along the protesters to keep them from filing into the road.
Feb. 16 was a national “Day Without Immigrants” and hundreds of people lined up along Buford Highway, renowned for its immigrant population, as part of a grassroots movement to protest recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests and President Donald Trump’s executive action targeting illegal immigrants for deportation.
Although no national group organized it, the grassroots campaign that called for people to stay home from work and school and to not buy make any purchases gained traction across the country and protests were reported in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Most of the businesses in Plaza Fiesta, a mostly Latino mall located in eastern Brookhaven at Buford Highway and Clairmont Road, closed to show solidarity with immigrants. Numerous other metro Atlanta restaurants and shops closing for the day were also reported.
“I support the cause,” said Luna Mora, 32, who attended the protest with her 12-year-old daughter, Yadi. “I want them to stop deportations and separation of families.”
Holding a sign that read, “Ni una mas” — “Not one more” — Mora said she was born in Georgia and lives in Doraville. She and her daughter have no fear of being arrested, but she said she knows of many people who fear deportation.
“I do feel for them,” she said. “This is all happening because of Trump’s election.”
Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on immigration was followed days later by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in cities, including metro Atlanta, that led to hundreds of arrests, including nearly 90 in Georgia. ICE officials said the arrests were part of routine targeted operations to arrest undocumented people who have criminal records.
“These ICE operations target public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, and individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who re-entered the country after being deported and immigration fugitives ordered deported by federal immigration judges,” said Bryan Cox, ICE spokesperson for the southern region, in a prepared statement.
However, the metro Atlanta Mexican consulate stated Feb. 16 that three of the 21 Mexican nationals arrested last week in Brookhaven, Norcross, Savannah, Moultrie, Duluth and Augusta did not have criminal records.
Manuel Rivera stood in the bed of his Toyota Tundra truck parked under the Plaza Fiesta sign and shouted into a microphone, leading the crowd into chants while blasting music from a large speaker.
“I don’t have papers, but I have a business,” said Rivera, who is from El Salvador. He has has lived in the U.S. for decades and now runs a furniture store on Buford Highway in Doraville.
“All my customers are immigrants. If there are no immigrants, I don’t have business,” he said.
Cross Keys High School student Nicole Herranz, 16, whose family is from Brazil, said she brought a group of other students with her to take part in the protest. She said she found out about the “Day Without Immigrants”and organized others to attend the rally on Buford Highway.
“I decided if I was going to skip school, I should do something important,” she said. “I support the movement.”
DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Stephen Green issued a statement, urging parents to send students to school despite fear caused by the recent ICE arrests.
“In light of recent events and social media comments, we stand firmly by our original statement that our schools will be safe places for learning and teaching,” Green said in the statement.
“We are aware that there are National Day Without Immigrants protests planned for Thursday, February 16, across the country. Classroom attendance is essential to student achievement,” Green said. “Therefore, we respectfully ask parents and guardians to make sure your children attend school to benefit from instruction and avoid an unexcused absence. We appreciate the support of our parents and guardians on this matter.”
Photos by Dyana Bagby