Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was confronted at a Mexican restaurant Tuesday night by protesters upset over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the US–Mexico border.
Video of the protests showed demonstrators approaching Nielsen and a male dining companion at MXDC Cocina Mexicana in Washington, DC, around 8 p.m., shouting slogans like, "If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace," and “Shame!”
“How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting, imprisoning tens and thousands of people who come here seeking asylum,” one demonstrator can be heard yelling in the video, as Nielsen looked down at her plate.
According to several people who attended the protest and according to the video — shot from inside the restaurant — Nielsen did not respond to or acknowledge the heckling, which lasted more than 10 minutes. The Homeland Security head stopped eating when the protesters approached, activists said, and left the restaurant shortly after the demonstration dispersed.
US Secret Service agents responded to the incident after a call was made to the DC Metropolitan Police, a police spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. Secret Service spokesperson Cody Starken later confirmed that Secret Service agents "were involved in an incident this evening while executing our protective mission responsibilities at a restaurant in Washington, DC."
"The incident involved a small group of people who entered a restaurant where a Secret Service protectee was dining," Starken said. "The group were not restaurant patrons and quickly dispersed. No arrests were made.”
An employee at the restaurant told BuzzFeed News that the protest had taken place but referred other questions to a manager, who she said had left following the demonstration. A spokesperson for restaurateur Todd English, who owns MXDC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
DHS spokesperson Tyler Houlton also confirmed the incident in a tweet later Tuesday night. “While having a work dinner tonight, the Secretary and her staff heard from a small group of protesters who share her concern with our immigration laws that have created a crisis on our southern border,” Houlton said.
Houlton also encouraged protesters and others to reach out to members of Congress to “close immigration loopholes that made our system a mess,” alluding to the false claim that Congress — rather than the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy — is responsible for the spike in separations of immigrant families at the US–Mexico border.
Protesters told BuzzFeed News that the demonstration was largely spontaneous, prompted by a tip from another MXDC diner who spotted Nielsen at the restaurant and alerted local activists. The Homeland Security secretary has become a leading face of the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from adults apprehended at the border, after stridently defending the zero tolerance policy at a White House news conference this week.
Members of Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America took credit for the demonstration after streaming footage of it live from their Facebook page.
“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,” Margaret McLaughlin, a member of the group’s steering committee, said in a statement. “These barbarous acts must end and those at the helm must be held accountable. While Secretary Nielsen’s dinner may have been ruined, it is nothing compared to the horrors she has inflicted on innocent families.”