Tornillo: America’s Newest Tent City

Tornillo, Texas is a city located 35 miles east of El Paso on the Guadalupe pass. It is home to one of the newest “tent cities” in America, opening in November 2016.

A tent city is a temporary processing center for immigrants entering into the United States. The need for this particular site was created by the large–and growing–number of migrants entering from the Mexican border. Most of these refugees are coming from Central America with a few arriving from Haiti and Brazil. While the majority are mothers along with their children, there are cases of fathers coming with children.

When Border Patrol picks up the migrants, they are bused to Tornillo. Here, the refugees are processed and given the opportunity to shower and put on clean clothes. They are given food, but no dietary restrictions are considered. For example, there is no alternative to milk if some happen to be lactose intolerant. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) eventually arrives and gives each migrant an ankle bracelet. Each individual is allowed to make a phone call to their family members, many of which are already in America. Everyone sleeps on a cot in one large tent guarded by armed guards. Within a day or so, the migrants are moved to more permanent sites in Philadelphia, Florida, San Antonio, or El Paso.

Many of the refugees come to the site in need of medical attention. Medcor staffs each temporary site, including Tornillo, with EMTs who work 12 hour shifts for 30 days straight. These EMTs are licensed to give only over-the-counter medicines to those who may be suffering. However, it is not uncommon for the migrants to need more than that. So, Medcor contracts with doctors and nurse practitioners, including Sister Doris Clippard, D.C.

“We mostly treat earaches, bronchitis, scabies, and gastroenteritis, but have also had some more complicated cases such as children with chicken pox or women who have been raped,” Sister Doris says. “If it is beyond our ability to care for them, the guards will take the migrant to the Emergency Room.”

While tent cities are a temporary situation, these refugees appreciate having a place to clean up, sleep, and receive medical treatment after the long trek from their homeland.

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