Immigrant concerns spread to local schools, stores and construction sites

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Concerns about the crackdown on illegal immigration hit home Thursday in the New Orleans area.

Absentee rates soared at several local schools, construction sites were virtually shut down and one grocery store chain closed in support of all immigrants.

Customers left upset after finding out they would not be able to shop at a local supermarket chain that caters to a largely immigrant population.

"I think it's important for us to close today because just as they are loyal to us, we are loyal to them," said Ideal Supermarket's Ana Viamontez.

Ideal embraced the Day without Immigrants boycott, but some immigrants believe the boycott is misguided.

"This is the best country in the world," said Celsior Espinoza.

The Peruvian-American became a naturalized citizen 50 years ago and believes the current six state crackdown on illegal immigrants is appropriate.

"No one country in the world allows you come just come in freely," said Espinoza.

Concerns over an immigration crackdown appear to have hit three schools in Jefferson Parish with high Hispanic populations. Absentee rates were much higher than normal at Riviere Elementary where one in five students was absent.

"We've had about 20 percent of students absent at Riviere today, and 25 percent at Phoebe Hearst and 15 percent at Bierney Elementary," said Corina Castillo the English as a second language coordinator for Jefferson Parish Schools.

"Whenever there's uncertainty there will be fear," said Marjorie Esman with the American Civil Liberties Union.

School officials say in spite of the astronomically higher absentee rates at schools like this one, students have no need to fear. That's because they say the Department of Homeland security has declared schools safe zones.

"That should mean that children are safe. It doesn't necessarily mean that parents are safe as they come and go," said Esman.

A crackdown on immigrants is also a concern in many industries, including home building. There were reports of several shutdowns at construction sites around the city.

"I think it's time for the adults to enter back into the conversation nationally on immigration policy. We are a nation of laws but we are also a compassionate nation," said Jon Luther with the Homebuilders' Association of Greater New Orleans.

People close to the issue just want policies that make sense.

"There's good reason for people to be concerned and frightened right now," said Esman.

The New York Times reports that officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said the immigration roundups that people were seeing did not represent an increased tempo. ICE representatives said they have  about 100 fugitive teams constantly working to bring in those wanted on a variety of immigration offenses and these teams have been just as active as they were during the Obama administration.

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