Christmas in Tornillo: An Indivisible Dispatch


The Trump Administration is currently detaining more than 14,000 migrant children across the country. An estimated 2,400 of them are at the West Texas Detention Facility in Tornillo, Texas, 40 miles east of El Paso. The children in Tornillo are asylum seekers between the ages of 13-17, most from Central American countries hoping to be reunited with relatives in the US; they are officially unaccompanied, although some traveled with relatives such as aunts and uncles and were separated at the border.


Like everything this administration does, the detention of youthful asylum seekers is as chaotic and dehumanizing as possible. They are housed in large tents and given limited recreation, no education, and nearly no help preparing asylum claims. Speaking to the Texas Tribune, Tornillo schools Superintendent Rosy Vega-Barrio stated “we have the same access that the whole world has, which is none.” Water provided to the children is over-chlorinated to the point of foaming as it exits the tap, and they struggle to choke it down. Staff and the rare visitors are provided bottled water. BCFS Health and Human Services, a faith-based organization that runs Tornillo, states that the cost of running the facility is $750 per night per child.

Christmas in Tornillo

Pictured: guards leading children away from activists singing and waving flags into a large tent. Photo credit: Calvin MacDougal

Christmas in Tornillo

Pictured: activists walking the perimeter of the detention center. Photo credit: Vanessa MacDougal

Christmas in Tornillo

Pictured: water source for Tornillo detainees. Photo credit: Joshua Rubin

Christmas in Tornillo

Pictured: activists returning soccer balls which the guards have refused to retrieve. Photo credit: Vanessa MacDougal


Release of the detainees is similarly chaotic and confusing. ICE has typically coordinated with local shelters when freeing people. However, in the last week, they have dropped off approximately 800 people at the El Paso Greyhound station. Local charities such as Annunciation House were not informed in advance of the huge influx. The former detainees were not provided with bus tickets or appropriate clothing for the chilly weather. Due to the shutdown, ICE is not responding to requests for information about why they chose this path of action.

What You Can Do

There is, and will continue to be, a group of protesters and activists outside the facility. All who are able to participate are welcome. Unfortunately, Tornillo is very remote from nearly everything, including Austin, so this is probably not possible for most people. Keep the pressure up locally! Call our Senators and US Representatives, and visit their offices. Rep. Will Hurd, whose district includes Tornillo, has called on the Trump administration to close the facility, so other Republicans may also be open to persuasion. The shameful human rights abuses and the staggering cost are both good talking points.

Annunciation House has an Amazon wish list! Make purchases here. 

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We’ve Accomplished a Lot

Two years ago if someone had said we have a good chance of flipping Ted Cruz’ seat, I would have laughed. But tomorrow I will be crushed if we don’t. While I’m optimistic I’m also anxious.

On the eve of the election in which progressives in Texas have invested so much, I am fearful that our efforts won’t be enough to flip the seats we’ve worked so hard for. But I want to talk about the tangible goals we’ve already achieved even before a single ballot is counted.

Here are four things that we should celebrate:

  1. We have created a broad network of progressive activists like nothing that ever existed before in Texas. We have developed relationships with the leaders of more established progressive groups and learned from them. We have earned trust and friendship along the way. Those coalitions are the foundation that will change Texas for the better.
  2. We have succeeded in changing the conversation in policy areas such as healthcare and immigration. By strongly advocating with and for affected communities, we have put lawmakers on the defensive. We have successfully moved the center to the left.
  3. We have developed tools to make our elected officials more accountable to progressives and we have learned new ways to engage them more effectively. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle recognize the movement power we have, and they have to respect it.
  4. We have become a more knowledgeable and engaged electorate. Get out the vote efforts have changed the face of voters in Texas; we are younger and we are more diverse than previous elections. This was a critical step in moving Texas from a non-voting state to a state that works for all its people.

The election may leave some of us feeling devastated again. Please be kind to yourselves and each other. Flipping statewide and carefully gerrymandered seats here in Texas was always a long shot.

Regardless of the results of the November 6 election, we have not reached the finish line. We have just reached a waypoint, and regardless of who wins any given seat, we’ve accomplished a lot.

How to Contact Your Representatives

Contributed by Sara G. from TX-10 Indivisible.

Fellow Austinites, we must band together as a community to hold our members of Congress (MoC) accountable. It’s their job to represent us, but instead they have acted against our interests and values. Let’s stand together, indivisibly, and demand that they honor their sworn oath to represent us.

Calling members of Congress is a tactic that is proven to work and is one of the core principles of the Indivisible movement. It takes as little as 30 seconds to make a call and make a difference. Below is a step-by-step guide for making your first call.

Who should I contact?

Is the issue:


In the U.S. Congress, you are represented by one Representative and two Senators. Each has an office in Washington D.C. and at least one office in Texas. Calling whichever office you want — they all end up with the MoC.


At the state level, you are represented by one state Representative and one state Senator. You can find your representatives on the Texas State Legislature site.

What do I say?

You could make two types of calls depending on how much time you have. The first, the opinion tally, takes less than a minute and does not require discussing the details. The second, the conversation with a staffer, is more involved. In both cases, pick one issue that you want to address in this call. If you muddle together multiple issues, the staffer will have to make a judgement on how to tally up your opinion. Be clear and precise.

Opinion tally call (30 seconds)

  • In an opinion tally call, you give the staffer just enough information to add you to the total number of constituents who support or oppose a bill. The staffer will likely be polite and professional, making this call easy and stress-free.
  • We are most effective when we all call about the same issue. See if your district group or Indivisible Austin has a current call to action script available. If so, use that script (or create your own).
  • Do not end the call without making sure that they have your name and your zip code. In some cases, they may also ask for your street address to verify that you are a constituent.
  • This basic script will work for almost all cases. You can write out exactly what you want to say before calling to make it easier:

Hello, my name is _____ ______ and my zip code is ______. (pause to allow staffer to write this down). I am calling to ask [Senator/Rep] ___________ to [support/oppose] [bill name]. This matters to me greatly because of ______. Thank you for your time.

  • Thank the staffer, using their name if you remember it.

Conversation with a staffer (5 minutes)

  • Be prepared to write down the name of the person you talk to and any specific information they provide, including direct quotes.
  • Be polite and calm through the entire interaction. Do not assume that the staffer disagrees with you or will try to argue with you. Assume good faith, and behave appropriately.  
  • Call, state your name and that you are a constituent, and ask to speak to the staffer who handles the specific issue. Write down the name for future use and share with your local Indivisible group. Here are a few examples:

Can I speak to the staffer who handles criminal justice issues?

I would like to speak to the staffer who works on health issues.

Can you confirm the name of the staffer who covers immigration?

(And a good catchall) Can I speak to the staffer who works on legislative issues?

  • Frame your issue as a question.

I am calling to ask how Rep. ____ plans to vote on the upcoming repeal of the Affordable Care Act. My family depends on the ACA for my father’s cancer treatments, so this issue is very important to me. What is the representative’s stance on this issue?

  • If the staffer says their opinion matches yours:

Great. Representative ____ has my thanks for supporting this cause.

  • If the staffer says their opinion opposes yours:

That’s disappointing to hear. [Share facts, statistics, or a personal story to support your opinion.] I am part of a local organized group of constituents and I shall be sharing Rep. ___’s views with them.

  • If the staffer says that they do not know or that the member of Congress has no official stance at this time:

Do you have an email address that I can use to follow up later to see if Rep ____ has changed their mind? I am part of a local group of constituents that cares greatly about this matter so we will be calling and writing to find out more about Rep ___’s stance.

  • End the call politely, thanking the staffer for taking the time to work with you, even if you do not agree with them.

Thank you for your time, [staffer’s name].

When do I call?

  • Call on weekdays during office hours (usually 8-5) and preferably not during lunch time. During lunch time, more of us are making calls and fewer staffers are available to answer the phone. We can be most effective by spreading our calls out throughout the day. Remember that if you call a Washington office (area code 202), the office is in the Eastern Time Zone.
  • If you have to call outside of office hours, you may have the opportunity to leave a voicemail. It is not as effective, but you are still making a difference.
  • If you get a busy signal, try again straight away.
  • Call about upcoming issues. Many bills are proposed at the beginning of a legislative session, but your lawmaker cares most about your opinion during the week or two leading up to the vote for the bill.

Thanks for taking action

Thanks for readying yourself to take action. You can follow Indivisible Austin or your local district group to see the latest calls to action to learn where to invest your time to make the biggest difference.