Meet the #MomsAgainstTheCamps Who Stormed Joni Ernst’s Office for Immigrant Justice

Fury over the crisis at the border compelled 50 mothers to take action last week in Iowa. They staged two sit-ins with their children on Tuesday and Wednesday in Des Moines at Sen. Joni Ernst’s office, demanding she take action to address the forced separation and detention of children along the U.S. / Mexico border.

After six-and-a-half hours on Tuesday, Ernst agreed to speak with the group by phone the following day, but when they left her office Wednesday disappointed by what they described as a lack of knowledge on the subject and her policies on immigration conditions.

According to accounts from activists, Ernst spent 20 minutes touting policies such as making asylum-seekers begin the process in their own countries and asked the group for specific instances of child abuse at the border. When they asked her to do more research into the conditions, she hung up on them.

“She also said: Can we all agree there’s a humanitarian crisis on the border?” Bridget Fagan-Reidburn, Director of Development and Community Engagement for Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, explained to Ms. “Well, of course, but it’s happening by our administration. There are people responsible for the situation.”

Activists hoped to convince Ernst, a mother herself, to leverage her unique position of power on behalf of children and parents facing inhumane conditions along the border due to Trump administration policies. “We need to ask her as a mother,” said demonstrator Bonnie Brown. “Would be she happy if her child was locked in a cage?”

Attendees demanded Ernst “visit the detention centers, tell Trump to stop the raids and close the detention centers and get kids out of cages,” and called for policies that “allow asylum seekers to begin the process immediately.”

The #MomsAgainstTheCamps effort began late last month, when Fagan-Reidburn saw the viral image of migrant father Oscar Alberto Martinez and his daughter, Angie, who drowned attempting to gain entry into the U.S. It was a “tipping point” for the mom, who reached out to her friends—Erica Johnson, the Director of the American Friends Service Committee, and Liz Blinde, Membership and Database Coordinator at  Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement—to help assemble an action.

The three women organized an event on Facebook and then connected with organizers, like Working Families advocate Sebastian Shawn, who provided live coverage of the office storm on Twitter.

Although last week’s conversation was a disappointment, it was not a deterrent. The cohort of activist moms have since asked for a follow-up meeting and sent a letter to Ernst; they plan to continue meeting and mobilizing, and they are considering attending Ernst’s future town halls and expanding their focus to other Congress members representing Iowa.

“I would love for this to expand, because I think this is so powerful,” Fagan-Reidburn told Ms. “Moms could be mobilizing in so many facets. What else can we be doing to call out this truth?”


Rachel Kennedy is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and Associate Opinion Editor for The Daily Princetonian. A Bostonian by birth and a feminist by choice, she hopes to empower women by sharing their stories. She is particularly interested in covering maternal healthcare, women activists, pop culture, and politics. Rachel currently studies History, Journalism, and African American studies at Princeton University.