Luis Gomez of Bluffton sat inside his car late Thursday morning on a side road near the corner of Simmonsville Road and Bluffton Parkway.
His phone lit up with messages from friends. They wanted to know what was happening and how many people were already there.
“More people are coming,” he said, pointing to his phone screen.
Gomez had taken off the day from work at San Miguel’s Mexican Cafe on Hilton Head Island as part of the national “A Day Without Immigrants” strike in which immigrants of all backgrounds and legal statuses — along with their supporters — pledged to stay home from work and school and to not spend money for the day in an effort to show the impact they have on the economy.
The strike itself had no national organizer and, locally, news of the protest spread over social media Wednesday.
A rally had been loosely planned for 11 a.m., but it was already 11 and it was still not clear how many people might show up. As it was, only a small group of television reporters and a few local activists were there.
Gomez, who was with his family, said he thought it was important for him to take part in the strike, but he worried the effort would send the wrong message overall to non-Hispanics across the country, some of whom questioned why legal immigrants would have to protest in the first place.
By mid-morning it was apparent that, while some Hispanic-owned businesses had closed for the day, many local immigrants went to work anyway, and those who did strike likely felt more comfortable staying home, largely because of the continuing belief that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were still in the area after conducting raids last week.
At any rate, a small showing wouldn’t have the hoped-for impact.
While the protest was partly in response to President Donald Trump’s immigration stance and his plans to build a wall at the Mexican border, Gomez noted that it was also about showing that they are a part of this country, too, and that not all immigrants fall into one category.
“We don’t want to make the white people think we’re not happy because (ICE officers) are taking the bad people,” he said.
“I think it’s a bad day to do this.”
By noon, only about 15 people had gathered, and most held signs with sayings like “Jesus Welcomed Strangers,” “My Home Is America” and “Immigration Makes America Great,” a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
By 3 p.m., though, nearly 100 people had amassed peacefully, and by late afternoon Bluffton police reported that the protest was incident-free.
Participants smiled and waved at passing cars. Kids moved their signs up and down. A few vehicles beeped in support.
Cheri Gould of Hilton Head and her 9-year-old daughter, Alice, who is home-schooled, said they came to the rally because it struck close to home.
“We’re here to support (the bigger message),” she said, “but we also want people to know, I mean, her dad is an immigrant. He’s from England. ... If he’s kicked out of the country, we’d lose everything.”
As part of the protest, immigrants were urged to keep their kids home from school, something that went too far for some local parents.
However, Jim Foster, spokesman for the Beaufort County School District, said, “There were noticeably fewer students today.”
All told, only 84 percent of students attended school Thursday. Typically, the average is 95 percent, he said.
Before the rally picked up steam, George Kanuck, co-chairman of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, handed out signs to those who didn’t have them.
He said he agreed with the strike and its message, but that a more organized and formal approach could have had more far-reaching and undeniable effects that more clearly show immigrants’ importance to this country.
Done right, he said, “(it) could really bring (the local) economy to its knees.”