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Immigration Boycott Doesn't End at the Border

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Actions in support of a day without immigrants stretched into Mexico. In Tijuana, just south of San Diego, residents were asked to boycott U.S. products and companies yesterday. And some Mexicans did honor the boycott request and put off travel into the U.S.

From member station KPBS in San Diego, Amy Isackson reports that businesses there felt the sting.

AMY ISACKSON reporting:

On the surface San Diego is not a typical border town, and psychologically, the border doesn't play a big role in most San Diegan's minds. But the two cities are closely linked. The border crossing between the two is the busiest in the world. On a normal day, approximately 50,000 people cross from Tijuana into San Diego to shop and work. But on Monday, that didn't happen.

Beatrice Garcia's husband is one who stayed at home in Tijuana, and skipped work at the shipyard in San Diego.

Ms. BEATRICE GARCIA (Wife of Boycotter): He's not going to get paid. That's like $200 a day that he earns. So I'm losing $200 as it is but it's all for a good cause.

ISACKSON: The cause was the great American boycott. For people living in Tijuana, that meant not crossing the U.S. to work or shop and for Garcia, it also meant stopping others from doing so.

(Soundbite of children chanting)

ISACKSON: She and about 50 protestors on the Mexican side stopped all traffic from crossing the border for part of the day, something that hasn't happened since the Kennedy assassination. Garcia says the message they were trying to send was, immigrants in the United States deserve justice.

Ms. GARCIA: Even if they don't have any papers, they're not criminals. They don't go over there to violate the laws. They go to work because they have necessities.

ISACKSON: Across the border, in San Diego, Lebanese immigrant George Hadia(ph), who owns a shoe store, says he was feeling the pinch.

Mr. GEORGE HADIA (Shoe Store Owner): Today it was very slow.

ISACKSON: His store at the Las Americas Outlet Mall is just a stone's throw from the border. It's normally packed with Tijuana customers. That's especially true when it's a national holiday in Mexico, which yesterday was. But Hadia says business was slow.

Other area business including taco shops, gas stations, the 99 Cents shop and more, all shut in support of migrant's rights.

(Soundbite of music)

Alena Mendoza(ph), who's been selling coffee and sweetbread to border crossers for the last 20 years, says she's never seen anything like it.

Ms. ALENA MENDOZA (Border Food Vendor): (Foreign Language Spoken)

ISACKSON: She says normally, long lines of cars and people wait to cross. She says not even during 9/11 or when Mexican drug lords murdered a DEA agent and federal officials all but closed the border, was traffic so light. Mendoza estimated yesterday's great American boycott cut her business in half but seems like more than that. Her only company in an hour was her radio.

Even seasoned Mexican journalists who are covering the boycott couldn't hide their awe at the empty lanes. Incredible they said gazing north.

(Soundbite of chanting demonstrators)

ISACKSON: Back on the U.S. side of the border in San Ysidro, protestors used shaper words at a mid-day rally. About 13,000 people gathered in the park across from the outlet mall.

Andrea Versiaga(ph) works at the YMCA in San Diego. She wants to show people that, though she and her two children are Mexican, they're not invisible, and that illegal immigrants shouldn't be either.

Ms. ANDREA VERSIAGA (San Diego Resident): We are here and that, that something needs to be done. And you can't just can't smile at us and walk by and pretend like everything's okay.

ISACKSON: Twenty percent of San Diego's school district students were absent Monday. Seventeen-year-old Ariel Coronel(ph) was one of them. He attended the protest because he said it was important to come together.

Ms. ARIEL CORONEL (Boycotting Student): We should try to unify ourselves so that the government can help us better.

ISACKSON: Rally organizers set up voter registration booths at different protests sites. The hope is to turn the rallies into a political force. For NPR News, I'm Amy Isackson in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.