Berkeley-based activists arrested for trespassing while trying to deliver toys to migrant children

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A Berkeley man and an Oakland nurse were arrested this weekend as they tried to deliver toys and sing songs to migrant children whom they believe were separated from their parents and are now staying at a Fairfield shelter. But the activists were asked politely several times by police and a security guard to leave the private property, and when they didn’t, the pair were taken into custody on charges of trespassing.

Jesse Ingber, 27, and Elizabeth DeCrou, 66, a grandmother of four and whose father escaped Nazi Germany, were both held in jail for several hours on a misdemeanor trespass charge before being released later that day. They were told to appear in court on June 30. They had stepped onto the property of the Baptist Child and Family Services on Pennsylvania without permission.

VIDEO: Berkeley group asked to leave shelter in Fairfield

"All we wanted to do was deliver toys and sing 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' and  'Brahms’ Lullaby,' " Ingber told KTVU on Thursday. "I’m not sure why they wouldn’t let us deliver the toys.”

He added: “I’m sure this is to keep the children hidden.” 

DeCrou, who spent six hours in custody for stepping onto the shelter's lawn, said she wishes the shelter would have released any information about the children, even if it was a general statement. "I was just there to sing songs," she said. "This was not a very good experience." 

KTVU sent an email sent to the shelter headquarters early Thursday morning but did not receive any response. The Bay Area News Group, which first reported the story, also received no comment from the group.

There have been contradictory reports about whether migrant children who have been separated from their families are staying at this shelter. KTVU has not been able to independently verify the claims. Most shelters and agencies, including Child Protective Services, have a duty to protect the privacy and safety of children in their care and have blanket policies not to divulge confidential information to the media or to uninvited activists. 

Baptist Child and Family Services, established in 1944,  is part of a private, nonprofit network of organizations that contracts with the federal government to house unaccompanied migrant children. BCFS also provides international humanitarian aid to impoverished children and families, programs for families that care for abused and neglected children and juvenile justice intervention, among other services, according to its website. It has programs in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Ingber and DeCrou went to visit the shelter with about two dozen others from the Berkeley-based Solidaridad Con Los Ninos – a grassroots "omni-partisan" group, whose members identify as patriots, Republicans and liberals, have launched a campaign to visit “the kids’ internment camps and related sites until the internment comes to an end,” as its website states. The group’s first excursion was on Sunday, leaving the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists for the Fairfield center.

Ingber learned about the group and was excited to be part of the trip. 

When he and the other activists arrived in Fairfield, they broke out the ukuleles, and started singing gospel songs. As the group belted out “Let it Shine,” DeCrou approached the shelter only to be told by a guard to “respect boundaries.” He told her, “I personally can’t do anything about it.”

DeCrou, carrying a basket of toys, can be heard saying: “I want to make sure they’re OK. I want to make sure those kids are safe.”

The guard responds respectfully: “This is not public property and you’re not allowed to trespass here.”

It’s at this point that Ingber crosses a line of at least four police officers. “Sir, what are you doing?” an officer asked him before police put him into handcuffs.

During the arrest, a stuffed donkey fell to sidewalk.

Samara Hayley Steele, an organizer with the Berkeley group and a UC Davis graduate student, said she doesn't really know what's going on inside the shelter and that's exactly the problem. She and her group tried to contact the facility earlier in the week to set up a meeting but got no response.

She said she understands that there are privacy issues with children. But she also said that because of the Trump Administration's past policy on separating children from parents at the border, concerned citizens have a duty to keep a watchful eye.

"What is this facility?" she asked. "We just want to know what is the situation of kids inside. To what degree are they being integrated? They're potentially not being cared for properly. I'm having a hard time finding answers to these questions."

Fairfield police said there have been no calls for service to this address for at least the last three years.