One night after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen conducted a press conference defending the forcible separation of immigrant children from their families, a member of Washington, D.C.’s Democratic Socialists of America chapter received a text from a friend.
“A member got a text saying ‘Kirstjen Nielsen is eating nachos like ten feet from me,’” Allison Hrabar, a spokesperson for the Metro DC DSA told The Daily Beast.
Less than 30 minutes later, about a dozen members of DSA were inside MXDC Cocina Mexicana, shouting at Nielsen while she tried to eat her Mexican dinner.
“How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting and imprisoning tens of thousands of people who come here seeking asylum in the United States?” a DSA member called to Nielsen in a video the group released of the confrontation. “We call on you to end family separation and abolish ICE.”
Nielsen continued to eat, surrounded by Secret Service. DSA members said she doesn’t deserve a peaceful dinner while presiding over family separations.
“While these children are not free, this administration can’t be allowed to enjoy a nice night out,” said Jesse Rabinowitz, a DSA member who attended the demonstration. “To me, the most powerful part was when we were able to use a speaker to play the audio of children being separated from their parents. What scared me the most was the lack of empathy or feeling that the secretary had. She just seemed cold.”
After video went viral Tuesday night, commenters blasted the demonstrators for disrupting dinner. But unfinished nachos are a small price to pay, DSA members said.
“Oppressed people have never been given their rights by asking politely,” Hrabar said. “Kirstjen Nielsen is not going to be convinced by us politely saying ‘could you maybe not separate children from their families? Could you maybe stop detaining and deporting migrants who have done nothing wrong?’”
“As someone who’s Jewish, I’ve been raised with this notion that this could happen again.” Rabinowitz said. “Never again means never again for anybody.”
He said a few dinner-goers disapproved of the demonstration. But other patrons got in on the chanting.
“If you ever wondered what you’d do in a civil rights movement, you’re doing it right now,” Hrabar said. “A lot of people started engaging. Some people started clapping with our chants. A couple people joined in, left their tables and stood up with us. On the way out, we got a lot of high fives from patrons and restaurant staff. I think the response in the restaurant was actually really heartening.”
The Department of Homeland Security downplayed the demonstration in a statement on Twitter.
“While having a work dinner tonight, the Secretary and her staff heard from a small group of protestors who share her concern with our current immigration laws that have created a crisis on our southern border,” spokesperson Tyler Houlton tweeted.
The impromptu action was the latest in a series of anti-ICE demonstrations by leftist organizations in recent weeks.
Since Sunday, Portland, Oregon activists including members of the Portland DSA, the Direct Action Alliance, and the National Lawyers Guild have been set up camp outside a local ICE prison. The coalition blockaded the roads leading to the facility, preventing anyone from driving in or out. On Tuesday, after a standoff with protesters, every ICE employee except for one security guard left the building, Raw Story reported. The guard, told demonstrators that the facility was closing and that “it’s unknown when it will open.”
Hrabar said the DC DSA has been staging demonstrations outside the homes of prominent ICE and Trump administration officials for the past three months.
“Two weeks from now, we’ll be visiting another high-up Trump administration official at his home and telling him we’re not going to stand for this kind of policy or any detention and deportation of immigrants,” she said.
-Additional reporting by Will Sommer