More than 250 businesses in the Charlotte region will not open Thursday as part of a nationwide campaign called "A Day Without Immigrants," or "Dia Sin Inmigrantes," according to organizers and reports from the Spanish-language newspapers Que Pasa Mi Gente and Hola Noticias, which has kept a running tally on its Facebook page.
Many of the participating businesses are Hispanic restaurants, bakeries, and international grocery stores, including the Hispanic-oriented grocery store chain Compare Foods.
Employers are instead encouraging their workers to join a march and rally in uptown Charlotte planned for 12 p.m. in Marshall Park. A Facebook event says the demonstrations are in opposition to a recent string of ICE arrests across the Carolinas and the country.
Immigrants and their allies spent the better part of Wednesday night collecting supplies, designing posters, and rallying supporters on social media in anticipation of Thursday's march.
At Why Not Pizza, a restaurant in east Charlotte, workers were taking up donations of bottled water Wednesday afternoon and evening. The pizzeria's owner, Maury Treao, herself a Mexican immigrant, said as of 8 p.m., more than 400 bottles of water had arrived, many donated from another local restaurant.
That may not be enough, as more than 600 people have said on Facebook they plan to participate in Thursday's demonstration, organized by the advocacy group Comunidad Colectiva, or "Collective Community." The group says it wants city leaders to take bolder steps to protect immigrants paralyzed with fear by recent ICE arrests across the country.
The ICE regional office in Atlanta says 84 people were arrested in North Carolina and 19 in South Carolina last week. According to ICE, most of the arrests were of people already facing deportation orders, or who had been deported and re-entered the U.S. illegally, or who were "at-large criminal aliens."
Though a number of rumors circulated on social media claiming that ICE agents were conducting raids and setting up checkpoints in Charlotte, ICE officials have denied doing so, saying they've only been targeting specific individuals previously identified as violating immigration law.
Nevertheless, immigrant advocates are calling on city leaders to take steps to shield immigrants from more ICE arrests and deportations. Rogelio Gallegos with Communidad Colectiva says he was encouraged by Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who recently wrote a post on Facebook expressing support for immigrants, but said that was far from enough.
"We actually want something to be done, instead of a Facebook post saying that 'we're with you,'" Gallegos said, "Facebook posts aren't going to stop ICE raids. Facebook posts aren't going to stop families from being separated."
Communidad Colectiva distributed a number of flyers encouraging parents to keep their children home from school Thursday as part of the citywide campaign. That led Charlotte-Mecklenburg School leaders to send messages to parents Wednesday urging them against doing so.
"While we are extremely sensitive to challenges that some of our families are facing, we are asking you to talk with your children about the expectations we have for them at their school and the importance of attending school each day," the message said.
CMS Superintendent Ann Clark has said she's been assured by ICE officials that schools and school bus stops "are safe from any immigration law enforcement activity involving our students."
Media outlets report similar events are expected to take place Thursday in Wilmington, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other major cities across the U.S.