On February 16, businesses around the country closed and many immigrants vowed to not spend any money in a demonstration known as “A Day Without Immigrants” to highlight the vital contributions immigrants make to the U.S. economy and culture. The demonstration was a response to anti-immigrant sentiment and policies enacted by President Donald Trump and his team. During their morning coverage -- from 6 a.m. and noon -- MSNBC and CNN both sent reporters to cover the protest, while Fox News dedicated less than a minute to the story during a series of headlines.
The New York Times reported that “what began as a grass-roots movement quickly reached the highest levels of federal government,” noting that the effort spread from places like construction sites in New York City all the way to federal government offices including in the Pentagon. The Washington Post wrote that the strike is a response “to a new administration that has taken a hard-line stance on immigration policies.” According to NPR, the protest also comes “after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents alarmed immigrant rights advocates by arresting some 680 people in raids across the U.S. last week.”
On morning cable news, MSNBC and CNN both sent reporters to cover the boycott, with MSNBC providing the only original interview related to the strike among the cable news channels. In the span of the 6 hours analyzed by Media Matters, MSNBC dedicated only close to 4 minutes to the story, while CNN dedicated just over 1 minute and 30 seconds. Fox News’ Heather Nauert reported on the story twice for a total of 40 seconds, both in news headline reads during Fox & Friends. MSNBC was the only network to feature the story in more than one show, mentioning it in three.
Fox News’ coverage dismissed the movement as immigrants “giving themselves a day off work,” and FoxNews.com quoted anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as one of the protest’s “several detractors.”
On the other hand, MSNBC’s Gadi Schwartz interviewed immigrant business owner Lorena Cantarovici in Denver, CO, who shut down her restaurant as part of the protest. Cantarovici recounted her story of coming to the country with “just a backpack, less than $300,” and described how she is in the process of opening her third restaurant. Her interview illustrated the job opportunities immigrants create for others and highlighted the real life consequences of Trump’s policies, with Cantarovici adding that she is “part of the model of the small business economy here”:
LORENA CANTAROVICI: Maria Empanada is an American business, and it's a dream that came through an immigrant that came to this country trying to look for a better life. So this is not something that is made only by me. I have a team. And all those people have the same ethic, and they want to work hard, and they want to be part of this dream also. So, I don't want to forget that I'm an immigrant. And that's why I'm supporting this day.
GADI SCHWARTZ: And you were saying that an immigrant started this. That's you. You came here with a backpack on. Tell me a little bit about that.
CANTAROVICI: Just with a backpack, less than $300, and now I'm opening my third location very soon. I am giving job opportunities to people. I’m trying to motivate them every single day, and I'm part of the model of the small business economy here. So yeah, that's what we are doing.
SCHWARTZ: And what does this mean to the people that work here? What have they told you?
CANTAROVICI: Well, the decision was made by all of us, and it was very important for me to hear my people, right? So this is a very specific way to demonstrate that immigrants here are very important, and a day without immigrants can create a very big impact. So this is a country that is made by immigrants. Imagine all of us making just a silence for a day? I decided to make a silence.
Right-wing media figures, however, took to Twitter to criticize the protest. Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza asked, “Will illegals guarantee not to rob or murder any US citizens today? #DayWithoutIllegals.” Right-wing radio host Steve Deace tweeted that “we are not a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of citizens. #DayWithoutImmigrants.” Radio host Wayne Dupree wrote that “anyone falling for this stupid day should be deported”:
As of 2013, “more than 41 million immigrants lived in the U.S.,” which makes coverage of immigration of crucial interest to a significant segment of the total population. Meanwhile, news outlets elevated nativist hate groups and their xenophobic sentiments throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and afterwards. Trump started his candidacy by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and criminals, and harassment against immigrants was the “top type of harassment reported” in a spike after Election Day. Despite reporting on “A Day Without Immigrants” for only 4 minutes, MSNBC set the bar for the protest’s cable coverage by highlighting an immigrant voice and covering the story throughout the day.
Media Matters searched Snapstream’s CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News transcripts between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. on February 16 for mentions of the word “immigrant” or the phrase “day without.”