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Protesters March To Texas Site Holding Detained Immigrant Kids


At a border crossing outside El Paso, Texas, today, hundreds of people gathered to begin a march toward the town of Tornillo, where there's a tent encampment to house migrant children separated from their parents under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy toward people trying to cross the border into the U.S.

Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe is covering that march, and she's with us now from Tornillo.

Monica, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. Happy to be here.

MARTIN: So could you describe the scene for us? How many people are there? Tell us what you see.

URIBE: Certainly. This morning, a crowd of three to 400 people gathered a few feet from the port of entry that leads into Mexico on the U.S. side, and they were not far from the spot where the federal government has set up this temporary children's shelter. And there were lots of families out. I saw dads carrying sons on their shoulders, parents pulling their toddlers in wagons, and I saw also a young boy with a sign that said keep families together. One of the protesters that I spoke to was Marco Covarrubias (ph), and he held his 3-year-old daughter in his arms while she waved an American flag.

MARCO COVARRUBIAS: I felt morally I had to be here. Before I'm an American or anything else, I'm a dad, and I just couldn't imagine anyone, let alone the federal government, separating me from my daughter when all I want is just, you know, a better shot at life, so...

URIBE: So Marco was born in Mexico, but his mom, who's an American, helped him get his U.S. citizenship. Now he studies political science at the community college in El Paso, and he feels his situation here is sheer luck, that he could've easily been like one of the families detained at the border. And he said he felt it was important to bring his daughter to the protest to show her how to care about others beyond their own family.

MARTIN: I understand that there are members of Congress there as well.

URIBE: Yes, the protest was organized in part by the office of U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who is challenging Ted Cruz for his seat on the Senate. O'Rourke is a native of El Paso, and he's long sought to change the rhetoric about the U.S.-Mexico border.

He paints the border as a welcoming place with a low crime rate and a rich cultural history. And O'Rourke was out under the harsh sun today, sweating through his dress shirt. And here's what he had to tell the crowd.


BETO O'ROURKE: There is an open question about who we are as Americans, whether we are a country that would continue to do this. Two thousand times so far in the last 45 days, kids have been taken from their moms, from their dads, detained at places just like this tent city here in Tornillo.

URIBE: There was another congressman, Joe Kennedy from Massachusetts, who also flew down to be at the protest. And he's the grandson of former Senator Robert Kennedy who's famous for his support of the Latino community.

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting. There was another protest there - a group of Democratic lawmakers paid a quote, unquote, "surprise visit" to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in New Jersey also today. But why this particular one in El Paso?

URIBE: Well, El Paso is a city of immigrants - not just from Mexico and Latin America. I mean, there were Chinese immigrants and African-Americans who helped build the railroad back in the late 1800's. There are people of Middle Eastern descent. And El Paso has a reputation for being an affordable, family-friendly city. Many young professionals are moving back here to start a family. So for them, the zero-tolerance policy both literally and figuratively hits close to home.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about the camp where the tent city is - it's being called? What do we know about what the conditions are like there?

URIBE: Congressman Will Hurd, who represents this district, visited the facility yesterday. He told Texas Monthly that the facility consists of air-conditioned tents that house mostly teenaged boys at the moment. They get three meals a day. There's a medical clinic and access to legal consultation. O'Rourke told reporters today that there are currently 200 kids in the facility and that there are plans to expand its capacity to 4,000.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, Monica, what is it that the marchers say they want?

URIBE: Well, O'Rourke was asked that question today by reporters, and he mentioned that he'll be supporting a bill that's set to go before the House next week that includes language that would prohibit the separation of parents and kids at the U.S.-Mexico border. And this is part of two larger immigration bills that are set to go before the House next week.

MARTIN: That's Monica Ortiz Uribe. Monica, thanks so much for speaking with us.

URIBE: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Monica Ortiz