Parts of Baltimore turned into virtual ghost towns Thursday, Feb.16 as immigrants across the country protested executive orders, tweets, and racist comments staining the first month of the Trump administration.

Yaslin Machuca (front), 18, and Barbara Casique, 17 (second from front), seniors at Baltimore City College, stand in East Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood with Katie Arevalo, 18, and Emely Diaz, 17, both seniors at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. All four girls participated in a “Day Without Immigrants” on Feb.16, 2017 and were absent from their normal roles and routines in American society.

Many businesses owned and operated by immigrants never opened their doors for service, and schools heavy with students from immigrant families saw only a trickle of children.

“Our economy depends a lot of immigrant labor and immigrants in general,” said Barbara Casique, a senior at Baltimore City College. “If every immigrant was gone what would the country look like?”

Though Casique was born in the United States, her parents are from Mexico. The 17-year-old did not attend school Thursday. In lieu of classes, Casique chose to help organize protesters in the East Baltimore’s Highlandtown community, which is populated in large part by immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

“We aren’t who he says we are,” said Casique, referencing Donald Trump’s 2015 comment that Mexicans are “bringing drugs,” “bringing crime,” and sending “rapists” across the American border.

“We come here for a better life,” Casique told the AFRO. “Parents bring their children here to have better education and more opportunities- that’s the American ideal- to have families together, united, working for their best life.

“What he’s saying is anti- American.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, “Immigrants are found to have higher business ownership and formation rates than non-immigrants. Roughly one out of ten immigrant workers owns a business,” and two-thirds of them are doing it with “personal or family savings-” not loan money.

Aside from not opening their own businesses for customers, immigrants across the country also closed their wallets. Support for the “Day Without Immigrants” in Baltimore gained steam as Immigration and Customs Enforcement began to target members of the Highlandtown community.

Yaslin Machuca, also a high school senior at Baltimore City College, was glad to see so many immigrants band together for a common cause.  The 18-year-old was born in Belize to parents from El Salvador and came to America when she was six years old.

Machuca told the AFRO immigrating to a new country is no small feat, and that compassion and understanding could go a long way in reframing the debate.

“Each immigrant has their own story- and each story is different. No one wants to leave their native country ‘just because.’ That’s their home,” she said. “Starting a new life in a new country is big and people need to understand that.”

Monica Camacho was just a seven-year-old girl when she began walking to America. Her father and siblings were already in the United States.

In a group of mostly adult men, save for her mother and one other woman, she was the only child on her journey from Mexico to a new life.

“I didn’t understand why I was saying goodbye to my grandmother,” said Camacho, now 22. “I didn’t know what we were doing. There were times when we would get to places where we couldn’t walk and cars had to pick us up three or four times.”

Camancho is now a community youth organizer for Casa de Maryland and believes every immigration story has the threads of bravery woven through and through.

“It takes courage to leave everything behind and start all over,” she told the AFRO, standing inside Patterson Park’s Creative Alliance. “It bothers me that they think a wall is going to keep us out and it’s not.

“When you’re poor or running from violence or a corrupted government you do the impossible to get your family here. We’re not criminals, and at the end of the day we just want the best for our families and our kids.”