TORNILLO – Hundreds of people spent Father’s Day marching in front of the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry in the El Paso Lower Valley community of Tornillo where a tent city was hastily constructed last week for immigrant children who entered the US illegally. The march was to protest the separation of children from their parents as the result of the Trump administration’s recent zero-tolerance immigration policy.
The small border town of Tornillo, with a population of less than 2,000 people, was thrust into the national spotlight after it became the site for the first tent city for boys.
US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running on the Democratic ticket against US Sen. Ted Cruz, joined former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar who helped spearhead the event in 48 hours. Escobar is the Democratic nominee to replace O’Rourke in the House. Other officials and candidates, including Gina Ortiz-Jones, the Democratic nominee running against US Rep. Will Hurd, and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the Democratic nominee running against Governor Greg Abbott, joined the march along with El Paso County Commissioner David Stout and El Paso City Council member Alexsandra Annello, formerly of Marfa.
O’Rourke shared that the port of entry that they were standing in front of was named after World War I veteran Serna who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and migrated to El Paso.
“(He) came here because he was inspired by us and the idea of America,” said O’Rourke. “And when this country decided that she was gonna go to war, he signed up. He is what we would call today undocumented.”
Serna was awarded a Medal of Honor for his service, and Hurd sponsored the bill in 2016 that renamed the port of entry after this decorated Hispanic soldier.
“This international crossing, this port of entry, this bridge, this connection to Mexico, and the rest of the world is named after him, and just literally feet from here, we’re holding kids who don’t know when they’re gonna see their families again,” said O’Rourke.
O’Rourke was told that there were 200 children at the site that Sunday morning with plans to expand the facility to house up to 4,000 children. When he asked when these children will be reunited with their parents, he was not given a clear answer.
“We would like to think and we try to tell ourselves this is not America. This is not us. This is not what we do. But ladies and gentlemen, at this moment, this is America. This is us. This is what we are doing,” said O’Rourke.
But O’Rourke said it’s an open question now whether this is a country that would continue to do this and that marches like the one in Tornillo help share the burden of what is happening.
“I want that burden to be so uncomfortable for so many of us that it forces us to act in placing the public pressure on those in positions of public trust and power to do the right thing for this country,” said O’Rourke. “Are you with me? Are you with these kids?”
The crowd agreed by erupting with cheer, including tri-county residents from all walks of life. Marfa Mayor Ann Marie Nafziger, her husband Peter Stanley, Marfa City Council member Buck Johnston, Camp Boswell, Emma Whelan, Gory Smelley, Gary Oliver, Renee Mick, Kaki Aufdengarten, Sarah Melendez, Laura Copelin, Gabriela Carvhalo, Kelly and Lance Webb, and Gretel Enck were at the march. Liz Rogers from Alpine, Adrienne Evans from Terlingua and John Paul Schwartz from Fort Davis were also in attendance. Robin Scott traveled from Sheffield to attend her first protest alongside her daughter and son-in-law Lena and Tyler Spurgin.
Austin musician David Garza marched along with guitar in hand. He’s regularly records at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo and took a break from the soundboard to sing protest songs at the event.
More cheers erupted during the speeches when US Rep. Joe Kennedy arrived from Boston. Kennedy, the grandson of late-US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, shared his family history of coming to the US.
“They faced discrimination. They faced prejudice. They built a community. They held tightly to each other, and slowly but surely they built a better future that they imagine they could build in a country that promised them so,” said Kennedy.
Standing above the crowd with microphones in hand, Kennedy shared that stories like this are stories of everyone’s family and that they must stand together for the each other and for the kids.
“On Father’s Day, we recognize that universal truth that humanity does not come with citizenship or with a green card,” said Kennedy.
There wasn’t any sight of counter-protestors at the port of entry that day. Attendance was estimated to be around 800 to over 1,000 marchers. The 9:30am start time allowed for cooler temperatures, but the lack of clouds gave no reprieve to the bright Texas sun. O’Rourke reminded the crowd that some of these families that are affected by the immigration policy traveled as much as 2,000 miles under the same skies and conditions.
“In some small insignificant way, we are sharing in their journey and what they have experienced right now,” said O’Rourke. “In some small way, we are helping this country take a step in the right direction.”