Armed with costumes, cages and a speaker emitting the sounds of crying children, a group of Bay Area residents protested child detainment policies in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, office in San Francisco on Friday.
About a dozen protestors acted out an imitation of an ICE detainment facility, with actors playing children in small cages and “officers” supervising them with the phrase “AccomplICE” written on their uniforms. The mock officers occasionally said a line about how they were just doing their jobs or following policy.
“We’ve become more and more desensitized to the standard protest, and while that has a place and is compelling, performance art can convey a message,” said protestor Michelle Lessans. “(The public) might pay attention a little more than if it were a regular protest.”
Shying away on the occasions when a mock officer would kick the side of the cage, the five “children” in the cages wore masks emblazoned with images of children and occasionally begged for help from the pedestrians walking by in Spanish. A few pedestrians stopped and stared at the performance, eventually forming a group of roughly seven people, but most continued to walk.
At 5:32 p.m., about an hour after the protest started, the mock officers rounded up the “children” and bound their hands with twine before marching them off, signifying the end of the performance. The mock officers declared that they were “just moving them to another facility.”
Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett said in a press release that he would attend the protest, but during the hour it occurred, he did not make an appearance. His office has not responded for comment as of press time.
“From the information I’ve seen, there’s zero actual plan to reunite families that have already been separated,” Lessans said about the new executive order calling for an end to family separations.
On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security put out a fact sheet, declaring that it had united more than 500 separated children with their parents.
“We’re some people who got together and decided to do something,” said Tania Abdul, one of the members of the group whose role was to question the mock officers.
According to Lessans, the group does not have a title or an official registration — its members were just people who wanted to protest something they saw as wrong.
ICE has not responded for comment as of press time.
According to ICE’s detention management webpage, “detainees in ICE custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement,” in accordance with ICE’s National Detention Standards.
The group plans to do this kind of protest again but does not have a concrete plan for when the next one will take place, according to Lessans.