Detroit — Flora Becerra immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1995 in search of a better quality of life.
Becerra, 37, said she felt the Mexican government limited her freedoms, including access to jobs.
Now a legal immigrant, Becerra said she doesn’t want to see the same thing happen in the country she now calls home.
“I’m here to support my people, and I’m here to fight for my people,” said Becerra of Romeo. “We wanted to let the government know that we are not criminals. We are here to work; we are not here to steal anybody’s job.”
Becerra joined hundreds of marchers in southwest Detroit on Thursday to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
The march recognized “A Day Without Immigrants,” a nationwide initiative that spread across social media Thursday.
Immigrants and their families were asked to stay home from school and work, and to close their businesses.
Marchers in southwest Detroit held up signs with messages such as “Stop Separating Families” in a plea for the government to halt deportations against immigrants.
Throughout the march, which kicked off at Clark Park before heading down Vernor Highway, participants chanted in Spanish: “We are here, we are not leaving, we are Americans.”
More than half of the population in southwest Detroit is Hispanic.
Khaalid Walls, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement , said in an email that ICE “fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion peacefully without interference.”
“ICE is focused on removing public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated our nation's immigration laws...” Walls wrote. “... Including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges.”
Adonis Flores, a community organizer, said he hopes the march sends a message to elected officials that they should protect everyone’s civil rights.
Flores added the Trump administration is spreading hate and racism with its immigration policies.
“We gotta remember all of us are immigrants,” Flores said. “We either came here as pilgrims, or as slaves, or as recent immigrants. We all built this country together.”
Adan Garibaldi, who immigrated to Detroit from Mexico 25 years ago, said he closed his clothing store Garibaldi’s Western Wear on Thursday.
“I come to protest and prove my rights,” said Garibaldi, who held up a sign that read: We’re closed due to a day without immigrants boycott. “We make up this country and we want to have a better life.”
Jennifer Lopez, 15, said she skipped school Thursday to attend the march. Lopez was born in the United States; her parents are Mexican immigrants.
“I came out here for all the discrimination that was made against Mexicans and how we weren’t made for this country,” Lopez said. “A lot of our parents came here for education, so they can work.”
Elsewhere around the country, protesters made themselves known by closing their shops and speaking out.
On Ninth Street in South Philadelphia’s Italian Market, it was so quiet in the morning that Rani Vasudeva thought it might be Monday, when many of the businesses on the normally bustling stretch are closed.
Produce stands and other stalls along “Calle Nueve” — as Ninth Street is more commonly known for its abundance of Mexican-owned businesses — stood empty, leaving customers to look elsewhere for fresh meat, bread, fruits and vegetables.
“It’s actually very sad,” said Vasudeva, a 38-year-old professor at Temple University. “You realize the impact the immigrant community has. We need each other for our daily lives.”
In New Mexico, the state with the largest percentage of Hispanics, many people who skipped work will lose a day’s pay or worse. But organizers argued the cause is worth the sacrifice.
“A lot of people lost their jobs because they took a day off, but they are ready to risk that,” said Olivia Vazquez, a 22-year-old community organizer with Juntos and a Mexican immigrant living in the U.S. illegally.
“They are tired of their communities being criminalized. Every human being deserves a life with dignity and respect, and we’re not getting that. They’re ready to fight back.”
Associated Press contributed.