TAMPA, Fla. — Since the occupation of the sidewalk in front of the Department of Homeland Security building started eight days ago, the number of people participating in the protest has tripled.
A couple of tents in the middle of a tiny patch of mosquito-infested grass now spans the entire sidewalk in front of the building.
On Thursday, someone dropped off chili to the group. The atmosphere felt like a tailgate party. The giant pop up canopy tent filled with fold-out chairs, water, snacks, and of course the chili.
“We are prepared,” Caitlin Bray said. Bray is with the group Democratic Socialists of America.
The protesters telling ABC Action News they won’t move until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is abolished.
Bray said the group is emboldened by the fact that the Trump administration has still failed to unite hundreds of children separated from their families at the border with their parents.
“It just reaffirms that we need to be out here and that this is very important,” Bray said.
Not everyone feels the same way. Anibal Cabrera is with the Tampa Bay Young Republicans. Cabrera said the occupation of the public space in front of the ICE headquarters is a waste of time.
“This dog and pony show that these demonstrators are trying to show up in front of these departments are just showing their inability to show what’s truly happening with immigration,” Cabrera said. “This isn’t something that’s going to get resolved in a few weeks or a month. This needs serious people, to have a serious conversation and not just demonstrators in the streets and demand something like a 3-year-old.”
Bray said their group isn’t being childish. They are working to help refugees fleeing horrific circumstances to live a better life in America.
"We are taking a stand on something that is very important,” Bray said. “If it means changing society and having a better and positive future that is not wasting time at all.”
As of Thursday morning, the government said it reunited 1,442 children five and older with their parents in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. An additional 378 were reunited with parents in different locations around the country or given to sponsors, who are often relatives or close family members.
That leaves about 700 who remain apart, including 431 children whose parents have been deported, officials say. Those reunions take more effort and paperwork as authorities fly children back to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
According to the administration, parents of 120 children waived reunification, while 67 had "red flags" for criminal history or other reasons during the review.
The Trump administration insisted it would meet the court deadline by reuniting all of the family members that it deemed eligible for reunification.