It is a pop-up art installation of the most dystopian kind: Small kids curled up underneath foil survival blankets in chain-link cages, with audio of crying detained children wailing through speakers, dropped onto sidewalks throughout New York City.
The guerrilla art installations, 24 in all, were plopped in front of the offices of news organizations, Google and highly trafficked areas of the city on Wednesday, depicting the most vivid sounds and migrant children detained by federal authorities at the U.S. southern border.
"Papa,” a detained child wept in one recording at an installation, a real moment captured inside a holding facility and published by ProPublica last year. Border Patrol agents joked with each other in that recording, as children cried out for their parents. The audio drew immense public outrage and demands that the Department of Homeland Security change its policies.
The audio was so “haunting” and “disturbing,” a local TV station said, a camera crew kept its distance from one installation to prevent capturing the audio on their broadcast.
“Brought me to my knees just now,” one passerby said.
The installations appear to be made of paper made to look like a sleeping migrant child. Some include a girl’s ponytail peeking out from under the blanket.
City police have removed several installations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, including one in front of the Barclays Center. Others were left outside CNN, Fox News, Newsweek and other media companies.
A video captured police tearing one installation apart, using an electric saw to cut loose a chain attaching the installation to a parking payment stand.
Ad agency Badger & Winters developed the idea in support of RAICES, an immigration and refugee legal assistance nonprofit in Texas.
“The litmus test of any society is how it treats children. By normalizing the detention of children in cages, we’re only going further down the path of forsaking the rights of all children,” RAICES executive director Jonathan Ryan said in a news release.
Federal officials said last week it would open three emergency shelters to house approximately 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied children in an effort to curb overcrowding at border facilities. The shelters will be at two U.S. military bases and at a facility in South Texas.
Border agents have apprehended more than 56,000 unaccompanied minors this fiscal year, a 74 percent surge over last year.
And new government data obtained by The Washington Post showed that many of the 2,000 unaccompanied migrant children in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities had been there beyond legally allowed time limits, including some who are 12 or younger, The Post’s Maria Sacchetti reported.