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Immigration Supporters Rally In Downtown Pensacola

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Immigrants across the country stayed home from school and work on Thursday to show how critical they are to the U.S. economy and way of life. Some Pensacola residents also took part in "A Day Without Immigrants."

About 50 people stood at the intersection of Palafox and Garden Streets downtown at late morning, holding signs and waving to motorists as they passed by.

“Pensacola is the first settlement in the United States,” said Organizer Grace McCaffery. “There were laborers brought here from the Yucatan, which is Mexico, at the time of that first settlement.”

McCaffery, who publishes the Spanish-language “La Costa Latina” newspaper, says Pensacolians recognized the worth of immigrants in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

“A lot of these laborers who came here in 2004-2005 came to rebuild Pensacola,” McCaffery said. “I actually use that as a point of educating people, especially our Latino workers, to be proud of their work because we built Pensacola, and then we re-built Pensacola.”

Standing with the group was Kim Shultz, who held a U.S. flag upside down, which is considered a distress signal.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Kim Schultz (L) holds the U.S. Flag as a distress signal during Thursday's Immigration rally in Pensacola

“The reason I’m holding it that way is because right now, we are a nation in distress,” said Schultz. “[President] Trump’s just something – he’s out there and he’s doing things that really bring shame onto the country.”

“There has been a concern, and a lot of these folks, they’ve been here for many years,” said Dr. Kevin Moser a psychologist in Pensacola who works with immigrants, both documented and undocumented, in Spanish and English. “Some of them have been working the same jobs; some of them own property, and been in the school systems. And they just want to establish themselves.”

Moser says the fear of being deported has gone up, in part because of continued calls by the Trump administration to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented residents in this country.

“Even with this recent immigration ban, a lot of Latinos are thinking, ‘We’re next, it’s coming,’” said Moser. “So there’s a lot of urgency to get paperwork started, and even concern about whether it’s even a good option.”

Credit Grace McCaffery, La Costa Latina

Flyers were sent out urging everyone, documented,  undocumented, along with citizens,  to follow a laundry list of actions such as staying home from work and school, and not spending any money anywhere.

As the group of about a dozen participants held their signs and chanted “No More Raids” at Palafox and Garden, organizer Grace McCaffery says that last week’s raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ratcheted up fears to an even higher level.

“[The raid] is why there’s absolutely any fear at all right now,” said McCaffery. “We are looking at neighborhoods being raided by immigration enforcement; people are actually reporting immigration officers now kicking in doors, asking for papers. It’s just terrifying.”

Besides ending discussion and plans to build the wall, immigration supporters are also calling for protecting those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program; and an easier path to legal entries, work permits, and ultimately, United States citizenship.

Thursday’s “A Day without Immigrants” is not new; in 2006 about 500 people gathered at the same location in downtown Pensacola, as one of a number of nationwide demonstrations and boycotts: to show immigration strength in the U.S.