While the Iowa caucuses, the first early voting event of the 2020 Democratic presidential contest, was underway in the capital city of Des Moines on Monday, caucus-goers were greeted with a powerful protest about the country’s detainment of immigrant youth.
Throughout the city, RAICES, a Texas-based immigrant rights organization, installed cages with mannequins appearing like children locked up inside, a demonstration that forced people to witness up close how the immigration system has treated asylum-seeking children and teens.
The hair and shoes of the make-believe kids poked out from silver thermal blankets as a red and white sign urged passersby “don’t look way” and recordings of children who have been detained, some crying, played in the background.
The sight was shocking to many, but that was the organization’s intention for the installation protest.
“The horrors at our border and throughout our immigration system are too often ignored by the public and politicians,” Erika Andiola, the chief advocacy officer for RAICES, said in a statement. “We’re asking people in Iowa and across the country: Don’t look away from the terrors enacted in your name.”
Some distrubed pedestrians called law enforcement to report “suspicious structures.” According to CNN, officers removed eight of the cages from public sidewalks and a park.
“The City of Des Moines enjoys the privilege of hosting and participating in Iowa’s ‘first in the Nation’ caucuses, and has a long history of supporting the expression of differing opinions and accommodating the right to lawful protest,” Des Moines Sgt. Paul Parizek said in a statement in response to the removal of some of the cages. “Keeping with that spirit, the Des Moines Police Department welcomes this piece of the political process, however we would like to request that when placing items to promote political agendas, candidates, or expressions of opinion, please consider not abandoning these items on public sidewalks or other public property.”
RAICES hoped the installation would motivate voters to think about immigration and support Democratic candidates that have progressive immigration platforms and proposals.
“We’re doing this because almost no politicians in this country are laser-focused on immigration,” the group said in a statement. “While some do far better than others, the horror at our border still goes ignored far too often, absent from the policy debates and statements from elected officials.”
There’s no telling if the visual protest was effective with voters — the Iowa Democratic Party has still not released caucus results due to reporting issues caused by coding problems with a new app they used to measure results — but it had captivated the nation and provoked conversation.