Iris Martinez is eight and a half months pregnant.

But when her mother called her Monday afternoon to tell her about the “three white people” protesting at the corner of Thornton and Waugh streets against legislation aimed at illegal immigrants, she came to join them.

“I want to support my people,” Martinez said, holding a sign that read, “Americans said land of the free. Show us.”

The protest, which eventually grew to include several hundred people, was loud and often rowdy, but no one had been arrested as of 10 p.m., said Dalton Police Capt. Terry Neal. Some people were stopped for “flagrant traffic violations,” he said.

Many of those who attended the protest were parents with their children.

Adela Delgado is concerned families could be separated when one parent is legal and the other is not.

“Our kids are crying saying ‘they are going to send daddy to Mexico,’” she said. “We don’t want them to separate us.”

Joe Rodriguez said many immigrant families are sending their sons and daughters to fight in Iraq. A former Marine, he spent a year there.

Rodriguez was born here, but he said as a Hispanic he knows what the families are going through.

“They are sacrificing their kids, but they don’t have the same rights,” he said.

Rodriguez, Martinez and the Delgado family were interspersed among teens and young adults who crowded onto the sidewalk. Many held signs, and chants of solidarity for immigrants were often mingled with curse words, sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in English, as police moved them away from the street.

Eric and Chad Pierce are not immigrants, nor are they Hispanic. But the brothers were the first to appear at the street corner, saying they wanted to show support for their Hispanic friends as rallies were heard around the country.

By 7:30 p.m., the Pierces’ party of three had grown to several hundred.

“I never thought we’d still be out here nine hours later,” Eric said.

“We couldn’t have done better if we’d organized it,” Chad said.

The impromptu protest was a challenge for Dalton Police, who had to control the crowd and still patrol the city.

“We had to call in our special response unit and third shift,” said Neal, who led the 30 officers at the scene. “All of us are riot trained to deal with crowds. And we still had officers patrolling the city’s four sectors.”

Due to Dalton’s noise ordinance, police told the protesters around 8 p.m. they had to disperse by 9:30.

Shortly before 9, police closed off Waugh Street from near the Dalton Fire Department to the Krystal restaurant, and Thornton Avenue from near the intersection next to the courthouse to First Baptist Church. Members of the large crowd took to the empty streets, but in less than 10 minutes were back on the sidewalks after police reminded them emergency traffic might still need to pass through.

Five minutes later, they were gone, leaving officers to remove the yellow tape and barricades.

“Their fuel was the people coming by and blowing their horns,” Neal said. “We took that away (by closing the streets). We got a few responsible people to tell them to go home and to get their children home.”

On the other side of Waugh Street, Roy Minchew and five others also went home after protesting the protesters.

“I’m embarrassed by the American people,” Minchew said of the low turnout of those who believe as he does. “And they’ll be the ones to cry first when they lose their jobs.”

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