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Boycott impacts San Diego businesses, schools, border crossing

Thousands of people across the country participated in rallies calling for immigrants' rights yesterday, including people on both sides of the California-Mexico border. Thirteen thousand people marched in San Ysidro. In Tijuana, business organizations asked residents to honor the U.S. boycott and not cross the border to shop. The boycott had an impact. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson has the story.

On the surface, San Diego is not a typical border town. It's largely insulated from many of the trademarks of its sister city to the south, like vendors selling Virgin Marys in traffic jams or the mix of smells like car exhaust and tacos. 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.

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

Garcia : "He's not going to get paid. That's like $200 a day that he earns. So I am losing $200 as it is. But it is all for a good cause."

The cause was the Great American Boycott. For people living in Tijuana, that meant not crossing to the U.S. to work or shop. And for Garcia, it also meant stopping others from doing so.

She and about 50 protesters 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.

Garcia : "Even if they don't have any papers, they don't go over there to violate the laws. They go to work because they have necessities."

Across the border in San Diego, Lebanese immigrant George Hadaya, who owns a shoe store said he was feeling the pinch.

Hadaya : "Today it was very slow."

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 Hadaya says business was slow.

Other area businesses including taco shops, gas stations, the 99-cent shop and more all shut in support of migrants' rights.

Elina Mendoza, who's been selling coffee and sweet bread to border crossers for the last twenty years, says she's never seen anything like it.

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 it seemed like more than that. Her only company in an hour was her radio.

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

Back on the U.S. side of the border in San Ysdiro, protestors used sharper words at a mid-day rally. About 3,000 people gathered in the park across from the outlet mall. They waved American and Mexican flags and held up signs demanding human rights for illegal immigrants.

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

Arisiaga : "That we are here and something needs to be done and you can't just smile at us and walk by and pretend like everything is ok."

Twenty percent of San Diego School District students were absent Monday. Seventeen-year-old Ariel Coronel was one of them. He attended the protest because he said it was important to come together.

Coronel : "We should try to unify ourselves so the government can help us better."

Rally organizers set up voter registration booths at different protest sites. The hope is to turn the rallies into a political force.

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