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Yemeni Bodegas Plan Shutdown Across City in Protest of Trump Refugee Ban

By Gwynne Hogan | February 1, 2017 6:01pm
 Many bodegas across the city are owned and operated by Yemeni immigrants.
Many bodegas across the city are owned and operated by Yemeni immigrants.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

BROOKLYN — Several hundred owners of bodegas, grocery stores and other shops owned by Yemeni immigrants will shut down for eight hours Thursday in protest of President Donald Trump's executive order that limits entry for refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, according to organizers.

Shops are slated to shut down between 12 and 8 p.m., according to organizers, and in the evening at 5:15 p.m. they'll gather outside Brooklyn Borough Hall at 209 Joralemon St. for a rally, according to the Facebook event.

“The news hit of the executive order, the whole community was shocked and scared, they didn’t know what to do, they were paralyzed,” said Zaid Nagi, 36, a Yemeni immigrant and investor and part-owner in 20 cellphone shops in The Bronx and Brooklyn. His mother is currently in Jordan, in the middle of applying for a visa to come live in the U.S.

"Then we saw everyone from everywhere jump in to protect us, to defend us. All over the Yemeni community there was this feeling of we could speak and people are here to help us and we have a voice,” he said. “We must do something. If we don’t do something then who’s going to protect us?"

Nagi, who belongs to an informal merchants association with Yemeni business owners across the city, said the group would shut their doors and rally in protest.

"We do not close our businesses unless it's very serious," said Summer Nasser, 22, an organizer at the Yemeni American Coalition, who's helping organize Thursday's rally. Trump's executive order, which went into effect last Friday, causing many to be detained in airports and turned away from flights to the U.S., qualifies as very serious, she said.

► READ MORE: Here's What We Know About Trump's Refugee Ban

"Especially with the war, there are people stranded in Djibouti, in Malaysia, in different countries waiting for visas to get to safety, to get to their families," she said.

Following Trump's executive order, an informal group of city-wide Yemeni merchants decided they had to do something to show how close to home the ban was hitting.

Between 4,000 and 6,000 bodegas and grocery stores across the city are owned by Yemeni immigrants, according to Debbie Almontaser, an organizer of the rally and board member at the Muslim Community Network. 

Organizers would not release a list of businesses participating in the strike because many fear they'll be targeted, but shops that close will post a sign on their door explaining why, Almontaser said.

Word about the shutdown was being spread via social media, at mosques across the city and through the company ATM World, owned by a man of Yemeni origin, who supplies ATMs to stores across the city and the East Coast, Nasser said.