‘Day Without an Immigrant’ activities affect some Vail Valley businesses | VailDaily.com

‘Day Without an Immigrant’ activities affect some Vail Valley businesses

Employees of Antlers at Vail expressed their feelings about anti-immigrant sentiment during a Thursday afternoon demonstration in Vail. Several local businesses either closed down or limited operations as part of "Day Without an Immigrant" activities in the valley.

EAGLE COUNTY — The ripples of a national day to raise awareness about immigration issues touched some Vail Valley businesses Thursday.

Immigration advocacy groups declared Thursday a Day Without an Immigrant, and there were various protests and work walkouts around the country.

In the Vail Valley, several businesses either closed or were affected. Loaded Joe's in Avon didn't serve food. The Little Diner in Lionshead Village closed as did Avon's Fiesta Jalisco restaurant. At e|town in Edwards, a sign on the door indicated the restaurant would be open only from 3 to 6 p.m., with no food service.

"We're trying to support our friends, our family, our peers," Little Diner co-owner Peg Little said. "It's important to support immigrants," she added. "If there were no immigrants in this country, it wouldn't function. … It's immoral and anti-American to keep them out."

Chef and Little Diner co-owner Brian Little agreed, saying he's worked with some of his kitchen staff since he moved to Vail 20 years ago.

The story was a bit different at The Antlers at Vail lodge.

There, general manager Magda King, herself an immigrant, picked up a sign and joined her housekeeping crew for a brief afternoon demonstration on Meadow Drive in Vail Village.

King said people from the housekeeping staff came to her earlier in the week and said they wanted to strike for Day Without an Immigrant activities.

Speaking out

Instead, King and the housekeepers talked, and ultimately decided on the demonstration.

King said those who are immigrants are legal residents, and some are naturalized citizens (the same is true at the Little Diner). But, King said, the housekeepers wanted to express their feelings.

"They wanted people to know that … we want to have our voices heard."

King said there was some initial resistance to the idea of a demonstration — people were afraid of arrest.

That sentiment is growing. Marian McDonough, regional director of Catholic Charities on the Western Slope, said her office is receiving between four and 10 calls every day from people wondering if any anti-immigrant enforcement action is coming.

The answer, at least from a local perspective, is "no." The heads of the police departments in Vail, Avon and Eagle, along with Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek, recently signed a letter to the valley's immigrant community. That letter states those departments won't be doing immigration enforcement. That's a federal job, they wrote.

King cleared the idea for a demonstration through the Vail Police Department, and the housekeepers made posters and signs. Some read, "We are here to make America great," and "Immigrants are the heart and soul of this industry."

King said the housekeepers, some of whom work on their English literacy with Colorado Mountain College and The Literacy Project of Eagle County, have been respectful and thoughtful in their disagreement with what they see as growing anti-immigrant sentiment in this country.

'Community of many'

At Steammaster Restoration & Cleaning in Minturn, co-owner Raj Manickam is also an immigrant. He's Indian by heritage, but came to this country from Malaysia.

Manickam said Steammaster has a number of immigrant employees, although no one took Thursday off.

Aside from Manickam, there are employees from Poland, Mexico and other countries. The company has also used seasonal visas in the past to hire people from Argentina, Colombia and elsewhere.

"This is a community of many immigrants," Manickam said, adding that the diversity of the workforce is a benefit to companies.

"You bring different perspectives when you bring different people," Manickam said. "Other people bring different forms of thinking, ways to answer questions and to solve problems."

Manickam praised company founder Gary Gilman for his business vision.

"That's the trust you get from someone who looks at an immigrant in a different way."

Anti-immigrant attitudes in the U.S. might also be affecting tourism.

Ralf Garrison is the principal of DestiMetrics, a Denver-based lodging research and analysis company. In a telephone conversation earlier this week, Garrison said he's concerned about the effects anti-immigrant sentiment might have in mountain resorts.

Calling the sentiment "an inhospitable run of nationalism," Garrison wondered why foreign guests would support that sentiment.

"Why would you brag (to neighbors at home) about going to the U.S. on a ski vacation?," Garrison said. "You don't build a wall when you're inviting people in."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.