By midday, the desert sun is high and this little protest frankly feels like a misguided act in powerless futility.
About 200 people, Jews and Christians, cluster near an eight-foot stone gate in the West Texas town of Tornillo, singing and praying for hundreds of Central American children held by the federal government. Two cop cars and chain-link fences topped with concertina wire keep them a good 150 yards out of the children’s sight and well beyond their hearing. Every 20 minutes, buses with tinted windows arrive ferrying still more children.
The group sings Olam Chesed Yibaneh, “We Will Build This World From Love,” as a folk guitar strums; signs, like one that says Let my people go with a drawing of Moses, are taped to the fence. But one driver, his federal uniform and badge clearly visible, brazenly leans on the horn of a bus marked Homeland Security. A towering, curly-headed young reform rabbi, Joshua Whinston, his head covered by a yarmulke and his big shoulders draped by a prayer shawl, tells the knot of people to follow him.
But if the police turn them back, they should return to the gate that serves as a designated protest zone, he cautions: “We didn’t come here to get arrested.” Dutifully, most follow, although a pack of Catholic schoolgirls peels away to second period back at school in nearby El Paso. The group shambles toward the police; they have seen this drill here so many times that they could ladle the tension with a spoon. Sure enough, the group turns and shambles back.
Fittingly, this place is called Tornillo—Spanish for “The Screw.” Nevertheless, this group of American Jews, with a gaggle of Christians, has emerged from the fearful sorrow of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre to travel from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and other points to help refugees from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. And it could, in theory, get them killed. After all, the suspected Pittsburgh gunman railed against Jews and immigrants in online posts before the massacre.