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The Life and Death of an American Tent City

Over a period of seven months, a vast temporary facility built to hold migrant children emerged in the Texas border town of Tornillo. And now, it’s almost gone.
relates to The Life and Death of an American Tent City
Madison McVeigh/CityLab. Photos: AP

Rugged, sepia-colored land stretches for miles around the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry in the small town of Tornillo, Texas. This border gateway across from Guadalupe, Mexico, was known as the Tornillo Port of Entry until 2016, when it was re-named after Private Marcelino Serna, a Mexican citizen who crossed illegally into Texas in 1916 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He went on to become the most decorated Texas soldier of World War I.

A few years ago, the government had big plans to develop a trade corridor here, acquiring a large swath of the surrounding land through eminent domain. But the project hit some snags, and the commercial traffic never really took off. Instead, this corner of West Texas about 40 miles from El Paso became known for something very different: a tent city built here in June 2018 to house migrant children in the government’s custody.