DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen confronted at Mexican restaurant: 'If kids don't eat in peace, you don't eat in peace'

  • Protesters jeer Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a Mexican restaurant, chanting "If kids don't eat in peace, you don't eat in peace."
  • In an 11-minute video posted by the Democratic Socialists of America, protesters can be heard criticizing Nielsen, the face of the Trump administration's migrant family separation policy.
  • Nielsen has come under fire for her role in the White House's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which has resulted in an estimated 2,000 children being separated from their families near the Mexican border.

Protesters confronted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over the separation of an estimated 2,000 migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The confrontation came at a Mexican restaurant in Washington.

In an 11-minute video posted by the Democratic Socialists of America, protesters can be heard criticizing Nielsen, who has served as a public face of the Trump administration's migrant family separation policy since appearing at a press briefing on Monday to defend it.

"That's her, that's her," one protester can be heard saying Tuesday night at the start of the video.

"Secretary Nielsen, how dare you spend your evening here eating dinner as you are complicit in the separation and deportation of over 10,000 children separated from their parents," another protester announced at the restaurant, MXDC Cocina Mexicana. "How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you are deporting and imprisoning tens of thousands of people seeking asylum here in the United States?"

The group did not say how it knew Nielsen would be at the restaurant.

Nielsen has come under fire for her role enforcing the White House's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which has resulted in the child separations from their families.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Monday, June 18, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Monday, June 18, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Numbers released by the Department of Health and Human Services show that almost 12,000 children are being cared for under the government's unaccompanied alien children program. More than 2,000 of those children have been separated from their parents since May.

"Shame, shame, shame, shame," the protesters chanted. "If kids don't eat in peace, you don't eat in peace."

Nielsen does not say anything during the video. Nielsen's spokesperson posted on Twitter after the encounter that the secretary had "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."

Nielsen "encourages all - including this group - who want to see an immigration system that works, contributes to our economy, protects our security, & reflects our values reach out to Members & seek their support to close immigration loopholes that made our system a mess," he wrote.

Escalating calls to end the separations

At a press briefing on Monday, Nielsen told reporters that the migrant separation policy was "not a policy," and said she was "not in any position to deal with hearsay stories" regarding whether the treatment of children amounted to child abuse. At least 10 Democratic lawmakers have called on Nielsen to resign, according to an NBC News count.

Some of the protesters' chants were personal.

"Have you heard the audio yet? Have you listened to it? Do you hear the babies crying? Do you hear them crying," one protester said.

Another asked, "Aren't you a mother, too?"

Images of children in fenced enclosures, sleeping on thin mattresses on concrete floors while huddled under Mylar blankets circulated this week amid escalating calls for the White House to stop separating families.

In a recording posted by the investigative news outlet ProPublica on Monday, children who were just separated from their parents can be heard wailing and promising to behave if they are reunited.

Margaret McLaughlin, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, said in a statement, "Secretary Nielsen and everyone else who has carried out these brutal and cold-blooded orders to rip apart families should never be allowed to eat and drink in public again."

"While Secretary Nielsen's dinner may have been ruined, it is nothing compared to the horrors she has inflicted on innocent families," McLaughlin said.