The day I arrived in El Paso to work with refugee families, my friend Sr. Margaret McGuirk invited me to join her and three other women religious on a visit to Tornillo, a camp built by the Trump administration to house teens who crossed the border alone. In January 2019, protestors were still camped outside Tornillo’s gate, but the vast tent city in the Texas desert was at last being dismantled; there was hope that public outrage had triumphed over government callousness. This was before the news broke of the jail-like border-patrol facility in Clint, Texas, where hungry, dirty immigrant children were left to care for each other. I was the lone layperson in our group, and the visit to Tornillo was my first encounter with the sisters I would live and work with for ten days.
We weren’t allowed inside the camp, so an activist guided us around the perimeter. From outside the high fence, we watched workers strip the walls from an enormous dining tent. Guards marched a gaggle of teens off the soccer field. When our guide found a stray soccer ball in the weeds, the sisters wrote blessings and signed their names. Our guide hurled the ball back over the fence.
I signed, too. But my inner skeptic asked: Blessings on a soccer ball? What good would that do?
Because I was traveling with Margaret, a Dominican sister, I was able to stay at a former convent across an alley from a family refuge. A dozen sisters from around the country—many fluent in Spanish—were also living there. Like us, they had answered a call to provide emergency help to Central American families seeking asylum at the southern border.