Juan Contreras pulled up to Fiesta Foods in a nondescript delivery van Thursday.
The driver got out, carrying an equally nondescript plastic box to the entrance, then seemed puzzled when the grocery’s automatic doors stayed closed.
“I guess they don’t want their delivery,” he said, explaining that the plastic tub held a drug delivery for Fiesta’s pharmacy.
Fiesta Foods, the four-store Pasco chain owned by Craig Gaylord, closed Thursday in support of “A Day Without Immigrants.”
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The general boycott by immigrants, and Hispanics in particular, was promoted on social media to demonstrate how crucial immigrants are to the U.S. economy and to send a pro-immigration message to Washington, D.C.
A Day Without Immigrants is a direct response to President Trump’s executive order that prioritizes enforcement of immigration laws against virtually all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“They don’t like immigrants? Let’s give them a break for one day,” organizers said on the event’s Facebook page.
Supporters were urged not to go to work, open their businesses, make purchases, go out to eat, purchase gasoline, go to school or send kids to school.
The call to boycott schools and businesses was widely observed in Pasco, where schools reported high levels of absenteeism and dozens of businesses remained closed for the day.
About 24 percent fewer students showed for classes in Pasco, said Shane Edinger, the district’s communications manager. The attendance rate fell to 70.5 percent, compared to a two-week average of 94 percent.
In total, 4,500 students missed school across the entire district. The largest impacts were felt in schools on the eastern side of the city. Attendance at Virgie Robinson Elementary fell to 49 percent from a two-week average of 96 percent. Ochoa Middle School experienced a similar drop.
The boycott appeared to not be limited to age. Pasco High School’s attendance rate slipped to 81 percent and Chiawana’s to 84 percent.
Officials were aware the boycott could impact the district. After discussions with principals, administrators decided to continue operating normally.
“They are being treated like any other normal absence,” Edinger said. “As long as the parents make contact with the school, these will be considered excused absences.”
As the day drew to a close, Kennewick began seeing lower attendance.
“At some of our schools, absences were more than double compared to an average school day,” said Robyn Chastain, the school district’s communications and public relations director.
Six elementary, three middle and two high schools reported higher than normal absentee rates. The boycott seemed to impact schools in the eastern and central portion of the district.
Amistad Elementary’s absentee rate was one of the highest, with 36 percent of the students not coming to school.
The boycott was not as visible in Richland.
Leo Perales of the Latino Civic Alliance said the Hispanic advocacy group didn’t back the boycott, because it was uncertain if local residents would be supportive.
But as dozens of Pasco businesses stayed closed, Perales was pleasantly surprised at the show of solidarity behind its pro-immigrant message, he said.
“America is run on immigrant labor,” he said.
The Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce supported members who closed, but opted to remain open in part because of how quickly the boycott mobilized through social media, said Sarah Del Toro, president of the business association’s board.
“It snuck up on us too,” she said.
The decision to close inconvenienced some customers. Some took to social media to complain about not being able to find lunch, but others took it in stride.
Pasco resident Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez Valenzuela and her son planned to shop for vegetables at Fiesta Foods.
She read a notice on the door explaining why it was closed, smiled broadly, then posed enthusiastically for photos.
Her son said they found several businesses closed. They were moderately disappointed, but planned to complete their errands elsewhere.
Viera’s Bakery weighed the pros and cons of closing for several days. It concluded it was the right thing for its mostly Hispanic clientele. The small company has bakeries in downtown Pasco and on Burden Boulevard. Both closed.
“It was a difficult decision,” said Eulogio Zarate, who manages the Viera’s at 430 W. Lewis St.
The company is sorting out pay issues for its employees, Zarate said. He elected to go ahead and work in the darkened bakery in order to have everything ready to reopen for business Friday morning.
Viera’s concluded that observing A Day Without Immigrants was good for its long-term viability, Zarate said.
“We’re not a big company. We’re a mom-and-pop shop. They’ve supported us for 14 years,” he said. “We want to be here for another 14, 15 or 20 years.”
As the day ended, about two dozen Pasco owners gathered at a closed restaurant to contemplate the day’s events and what it all meant.
Valentin Lopez, who owns the Taqueria El Sazon restaurants, said the typical revenue for a Thursday is $8,000. By one estimate, the businesses at the table represented $100,000 in lost revenue.
The group agreed it was willing to take the loss to drive home a message.
“We are not criminals. We are undocumented, but that does not make us criminals. We need immigration reform,” said Ana Ruiz Peralta, a New York Life agent and Pasco business owner who spoke on the group’s behalf.
Herald reporter Cameron Probert contributed to this story.