Des Moines Register 04-25-06 Iowa immigrants to take day off Advocates are asking workers in several states to take part in a protest May 1. DANA BOONE REGISTER STAFF WRITER Rosa Arceo plans to close her Mexican restaurant on May 1. Arceo, her husband and the 40 Mexican employees at Plaza Mexico on Des Moines' east side will take the day off. It's not a holiday. And it's not a vacation. It's National Day Without Immigrants. And in Iowa, immigrants have been asked to stay away from work, school and stores to highlight the contributions that immigrants make to society and the economy. Organizers hope the protest will make a case for immigration reform. "I close the store because I want to help the immigrants," said Arceo, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. "All my employees are planning on staying home. Nobody goes out and shops." A coalition of Iowa organizations and individuals called United for the Dignity and Safety of Immigrants organized the boycott, which is also being promoted in other areas of the United States. At least one meatpacking plant in Ottumwa, where almost half of the employees are Latino, will shut down on May 1, an official said. U.S. lawmakers resume the national debate over immigration this week. Organizers said the May 1 boycott could occur sooner depending on the outcome of that debate. It's unclear how many immigrants will participate in the Iowa boycott, but organizers expect it could be thousands. The event has been widely promoted in Spanish-language newspapers, radio and television stations. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Iowa immigrants participated in organized rallies in downtown Des Moines earlier this month. Boycotts are planned in other parts of the country, but some events will focus instead on vigils or voter registration drives, organizers said. Arceo and other immigrants said the boycott will emphasize that immigration reform must include provisions that allow for an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States to remain here legally. The plan to boycott angers retired nurse Aggie Snyder, 62, of Des Moines. She predicts the one-day boycott will have little effect on the economy and most likely will hurt immigrants and their businesses. "I don't think there there is anything the illegals can do to make people like me believe that they should be able to stay here," she said. The boycott is geared toward all immigrants, but participants will be largely Latino, said Sandra Sanchez, a project director for the Immigrants Voice Project at the American Friends Service Committee, which helped coordinate the event. She said the boycott is designed to raise awareness about the nation's broken immigration system, to encourage people to learn about the issues, and to spur Americans to join in and help. "We want to do it in a respectful manner," Sanchez said. It is unknown how many children and college students will stay home from school on May 1, organizers said. Some Latino students at Iowa State University plan to join the boycott, said Cilia Mar’a Ruiz-Paz , president of ISU's Latino Heritage Month Committee. U.S. Census projections estimate that Iowa's Latino population will more than double, from 104,199 to 269,630, by 2030. It's difficult to estimate the number of undocumented immigrants, but Mark Grey , director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration at the University of Northern Iowa, estimates that 50,000 to 75,000 Latinos in Iowa are here illegally. Sanchez said a boycott has been discussed by advocates since 1997. Plans kicked into high gear last month when Senate proposals to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants stalled. The House of Representatives earlier passed a tougher enforcement-only bill. Arceo and others say they want the government to allow undocumented immigrants and their relatives to become citizens. Sanchez said businesses have been asked to not retaliate against those who participate in the boycott. "We expect that the large majority of employers, because of the education involved, will understand, and they will not punish or retaliate against their workers," Sanchez said. "We are confident that they understand this is not only affecting their work force, but themselves." However, some cleaning companies in Des Moines have warned their employees in writing in Spanish that they could be fired if they participate. Iowa meatpacking companies have taken different approaches to the boycott. Cargill Meat Solutions, which owns a pork-processing plant in Ottumwa, will shut down May 1. Cargill's plant in Illinois also will close. Employees will work Tuesday through Friday. Nearly half of Cargill's 2,400 employees in Ottumwa are Latino. "In talking with our employees, we think this was the right decision," said Mark Klein, spokesman for Cargill. Swift & Co. in Marshalltown has 2,150 employees, of whom 75 percent are Latino. Swift asked employees to request the time off, which will be approved on a "case by case" basis, a spokesman said. Officials at Tyson Foods Inc., which has packing plants in Denison, Perry, Columbus Junction, Storm Lake and Waterloo, have not decided how to handle employees who want the day off, an official said. Darcy Tromanhauser, coordinator of the Immigrant Integration and Civic Participation Program at Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, said "there really is a positive impulse behind" the boycott, vigils and events. "The simple fact is that everyone acknowledges the system is broken, and simply focusing on enforcement measures is not going to fix it," Tromanhauser said. Voter registration drives are planned in Lincoln, Neb., she said. There is some disagreement among organizers and others about the boycott. Some fear a backlash against immigrants from the public and lawmakers. Leland Searles , an anthropology instructor at Des Moines Area Community College, said he is a "non-Latino" who will take the day off and refrain from all purchases to support the cause. But he has mixed feelings. "The boycott is likely to produce an even more powerful backlash effect than the one produced by the nationwide rallies," Searles said. "I would hate for the cultural and legal issues to become even more toxic than they are already in Iowa and the U.S." Tromanhauser said recent rallies have been peaceful, and the May 1 events are modeled on other protests in American history. "This is really in the spirit of the American democratic tradition," she said. "To have peaceful protest when there are laws that need to be changed." Snyder, who described herself as a "loving, kind person" who helps her neighbors, said undocumented immigrants should return to their home countries and go through legal channels to re-enter the United States. She said she has no sympathy for any who flout the law. Sanchez said most undocumented immigrants do not have a legal way to remain in the United States. "Many people think that they just simply are not following the steps," Sanchez said. "There are no legal channels." Arceo, whose relatives own five restaurants in Iowa, said she, her husband and their family are in the country legally. She said the boycott is about giving all immigrants a chance at the American dream. "Hopefully the American people won't be mad about this," Arceo said. "It's important for the government to open their eyes and allow the immigrants here to work legal."