Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen can’t escape the cries of detained immigrant children. That’s because activists say they will play the disturbing audio of a crying immigrant girl outside Nielsen’s home, at restaurants, and everywhere she goes.
Activists gathered outside Nielsen’s ritzy townhouse Friday morning with posters calling her a “child snatcher,” and a loudspeaker playing the children’s cries. It’s the second time this week protesters have confronted Nielsen with the audio, after she defended a policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.
“Kirstjen Nielsen spent the last two weeks denying the administration was even separating children, so it seems like she’s refusing to look at what’s going on and refusing to take responsibility,” said Heidi Hess of CREDO Action, one in a coalition of activist groups that demonstrated outside Nielsen’s house.
By playing the audio, protesters wanted “to make sure that, if she’d been turning her ears away, that she really heard it,” Hess said.
The audio clip, in which young detained children cry for their parents while a border patrol agent mocks them, was released by ProPublica on Monday. Shortly after the clip’s release, Nielsen held a press conference in which she defended the child separation policy (which she had previously denied existed) and claimed not to have heard the audio (at least one reporter played the clip during the press conference).
Facing national outcry, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday allowing families to be detained together. But the U.S. has no clear plan for reunifying separated families, and activists also oppose the practice of mass detention and deportation of those families.
Those activists are pressuring individual Trump officials to overhaul the administration’s treatment of immigrants. On Tuesday, members of the Democratic Socialists of America confronted Nielsen inside a Mexican restaurant where she was eating nachos. One demonstrator told The Daily Beast that Nielsen seemed “cold” when they played the now-infamous audio of the detained children.
Those demonstrators faced a backlash of their own for protesting the child separations, with conservative commentator Erick Erickson comparing the protesters to Nazis for their peaceful ten-minute demonstration in the restaurant.
“When should we confront them if not in public? What they’re doing amounts to torture,” said Michelle LaRue, Virginia director for CASA in Action, another group that attended the demonstration at Nielsen’s home. “We cannot morally stand quiet. And many times, these officials won’t grant meetings with immigrant rights organizations, so we’re not given any alternative. If you’re going to defend actions like this, I think you’re setting yourself up to hearing from the public, even in public.”
Nielsen appeared to have been home during the protest, but left out the back door, flanked by security, Hess said.
CREDO Action and CASA in Action said they plan future demonstrations, although they have no current plans to return to Nielsen’s home.
“One of the chants we did in front of her house was ‘no justice, no sleep,’” Hess said. “It is our belief that everyone in the country needs to be paying close attention to what the Trump administration is doing and not turning away from it, even though it’s horrible.”