Thousands rally in the Loop as businesses close for ‘A Day Without Immigrants’ in Chicago

CHICAGO -- Thousands of protesters flooded the Loop late Thursday afternoon in the culmination of a pro-immigrant march and rally that began in the morning at Union Park on Ashland and Washington.

Businesses in Chicago and across the country shut down for the day in observance of “A Day Without Immigrants.” The protest gained momentum on social media and by word of mouth.

It comes in response to President Donald Trump, whose administration has pledged to increase the deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally. Trump campaigned on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and blamed high unemployment on immigration. As president, he's called for a ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming into the U.S.

Recent high profile deportations of mothers, guilty only of using fake documents so they could work to support their families, sent out shock waves, said one demonstrator.

"We are trying to keep our families together. And we are in support of who is here," Liz Cristino said.

News of the protest spread quickly through word of mouth and social media posts under the hashtag #ADayWithoutImmigrants, calling for participants to skip work and school, close businesses and avoid making any purchases. One Facebook post directed at President Donald Trump, read "Mr. President, without us and our contributions the country will be paralyzed."

"If hundreds of thousands of immigrants stayed home from work, New York City would shut down," said Thanu Yakupitiyage, senior communications manager for the New York Immigration Coalition.

Across the U.S., many major industries would be feeling that pain as well. That's especially true for the restaurant industry, where foreign-born workers provide the vast majority of labor.

Several high profile chefs, including Chicago's Rick Bayless, shut down their restaurants for the day. Pete's Fresh Market also closed its grocery stores.

In 2015, 7.1 million restaurant workers in the U.S. were immigrants, versus 5.1 million who were native born, according to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And analysis by Pew Research found that about 1.1 million of the industry's workers were undocumented in 2014. That makes the industry second only to construction when it comes to relying on undocumented workers.