Hugs Not Walls: Reunification of Families on the South Border

Hashtag used by the organizers of the event placed right in the river wall | Courtesy of Border Network for Human Rights

Today is the day. Today is the day you are finally going to see your parents for the first time in years. Even if it is for only three minutes or four, you know that that is enough time to hug them and tell them how much you love and miss them. That is the case for many families living in border towns like El Paso, Texas. Border Network for Human Rights, a non-profit organization in El Paso, started an event that made this possible for many people living in surrounding areas.

When President Trump took office in 2017, he reversed many, if not all, of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. He used his executive powers to end immigration policies like DACA and DAPA. He also ordered the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to detain undocumented immigrants.1 Trump issued the renewal of the Secure Communities program, which increased the backlogs in deportation hearings, making it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to move forward in their process to obtain a green card.2 Three years ago, in January, President Trump doubled down on his promise to build a wall along the southern border by signing an executive order, which created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for many living in border towns.3

The Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), took it upon themselves to try to ease some of the anxiety that families from the border face every day. The annual event Hugs not Walls brings families together from the United States and Mexico that have not seen each other in a long time due to the broken immigration system.4 The event of thousands of people is “an event of humanity and love,” stated the executive director of BNHR, Fernando Garcia. “This primary goal is to bring together those families that have been separated, but it’s important to say that also it is an act of protest – because we need to bring attention to those families that have been in detention, deported and separated of their family members.”5 Technically, no one is breaking the law here because no one is crossing either side of the border; they are staying right in the middle of the river, which has no water running and has only dirt and mud, without giving each other anything.

“Debora” reunited with her family members | Courtesy of ABC news

A twenty-four-year old woman, who gave the name “Debora” due to confidentiality because she and her family came to the United States undocumented, has not seen her sister Gloria in a decade, since she was caught by border police and deported. Gloria also has a now fifteen-year-old daughter that made it to the U.S., but has not seen her since. The sisters only live seven miles away from each other, but the U.S.-Mexico border is the obstacle that keeps them from seeing each other. Debora states that it is truly tough knowing that it is just a fence across the street that keeps her away from her family.6 Ruby Almaraz drove from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to have a chance to see and hug her father for the first time in twenty-three years, since he was deported when she was only a baby. Ruby drove twelve hours along with her mother, sister, and her seven-year-old daughter, so her father can meet his granddaughter for the first time.7 The Jaimes family from Las Cruces, New Mexico, traveled to El Paso to reunite with their grandparents. The Jaimes’ elders were deported two years prior to the event and now their grandchildren get to see them once every six months, which has been really rough for them, since they were all very close. The deportation really tore them apart, stated one of the grandchildren.8

Families finally reunite with each other at border | Courtesy of ABC news

The much anticipated day had arrived. Families waited in line along the river to meet with their family members across the border. Those members on the Mexican side were wearing the white t-shirts given to them and those on the U.S. side were wearing the blue t-shirts. Debora, along with other family members, embraced her sister, aunts, and uncles as tears flowed down their faces and for those four minutes, her family was complete again.9 Ruby finally embraced her father across the yellow caution tape that was used to signify the border line. They barely had enough time to say they missed each other and that they wish that one day they’ll be all together again.10 The Jaimes’ grandmother was overwhelmed with happiness and sobbed as she hugged her grandchildren. “This is something big, something I never thought would happen,” said Grandma Jaimes speaking in Spanish. “I am very grateful to the people involved who allowed us to do this and give each other a hug.”11

Border Patrol agent monitors the family members at the border event | Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

Due to the building of the wall along the border, the event was forced to be moved to a dirt road several miles to the northwest from its previous location in 2018. Garcia stated that this was more symbolic than ever because these families are overcoming these walls, by hugging.12 This only goes to show how President Trump’s policies are affecting negatively these communities and their people. The border wall and recent policy proposals focused on the border are not long-term solutions. They are a symbol of our country’s failure to resolve the issue of undocumented immigration, that could be dealt with by a comprehensive immigration reform.13

  1. Michael C. LeMay, Immigration Reform: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2019), 80.
  2. Michael C. LeMay, Immigration Reform: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2019), 81.
  3. Michelle Kessel, Robert Zepeda, and Lauren Effron, “Families separated by US-Mexico border embrace in emotional ‘hugs not walls’ 4-minute reunions,” February 2017, ABC News Online (website), https://abcnews.go.com/US/families-separated-us-mexico-border-embrace-emotional-hugs/story?id=45205124.
  4. “HUGS NOT WALLS,” Border Network for Human Rights (website), https://bnhr.org/hugs-not-walls-stories-of-family-reunification/.
  5. Michelle Kessel, Robert Zepeda, and Lauren Effron, “Families separated by US-Mexico border embrace in emotional ‘hugs not walls’ 4-minute reunions,” February 2017, ABC News Online (website), https://abcnews.go.com/US/families-separated-us-mexico-border-embrace-emotional-hugs/story?id=45205124.
  6. Michelle Kessel, Robert Zepeda, and Lauren Effron, “Families separated by US-Mexico border embrace in emotional ‘hugs not walls’ 4-minute reunions,” February 2017, ABC News Online (website), https://abcnews.go.com/US/families-separated-us-mexico-border-embrace-emotional-hugs/story?id=45205124.
  7. Brittny Mejia, “Organizers call for ‘Hugs Not Walls,’ even as they are displaced by the border wall construction,” Los Angeles Times Online (website), October 13, 2018, https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-texas-families-wall-20181013-story.html.
  8. Ray Bogan, “Hugs Not Walls: Families divided by the U.S.-Mexico border get 4 minutes to reunite,” November 2016, Fox News Online (website), https://www.foxnews.com/world/hugs-not-walls-families-divided-by-the-u-s-mexico-border-get-4-minutes-to-reunite.
  9. Michelle Kessel, Robert Zepeda, and Lauren Effron, “Families separated by US-Mexico border embrace in emotional ‘hugs not walls’ 4-minute reunions,” February 2017, ABC News Online (website), https://abcnews.go.com/US/families-separated-us-mexico-border-embrace-emotional-hugs/story?id=45205124.
  10. Brittny Mejia, “Organizers call for ‘Hugs Not Walls,’ even as they are displaced by the border wall construction,” Los Angeles Times Online (website), October 13, 2018, https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-texas-families-wall-20181013-story.html.
  11. Ray Bogan, “Hugs Not Walls: Families divided by the U.S.-Mexico border get 4 minutes to reunite,” November 2016, Fox News Online (website), https://www.foxnews.com/world/hugs-not-walls-families-divided-by-the-u-s-mexico-border-get-4-minutes-to-reunite.
  12. Brittny Mejia, “Organizers call for ‘Hugs Not Walls,’ even as they are displaced by the border wall construction,” Los Angeles Times Online (website), October 13, 2018, https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-texas-families-wall-20181013-story.html.
  13. The Impacts of Trump Policies on Border Communities : Hearing before the Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, One Hundred Sixteenth Congress, First Session, April 30, 2019. 2019. U.S. Government Publishing Office, https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=829004, 14.

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32 Responses

  1. This is not a long article, but it is an emotional one; it demonstrates that there is still faith in humanity, that there are still people with good intentions and a heart to do these kinds of deeds and activities so that people can see their own families again. Many families have been torn apart as a result of politics and hate crimes based on race, color, and other factors. It is difficult to speak about this issue because it is a sensitive subject for many people. It’s very sad how we’ve convinced ourselves that this is normal and how things should be. Even though this is a heartbreaking article, it is also an amazing one that demonstrates that hope is not lost; we now have a new president, which means that there is hope of progress, not only economic and political, but also social, where justice can be done and families will no longer be separated by a fence.

  2. This is a compelling article. It can be difficult to take about family separation and deportation because of how sad it is, but so many people in our community are close to the topic. It’s sad how people can remove the empathy and ethics of the situation in politics. They can be hateful and continue to demonize these families like the ones discussed in the article. It is really difficult to see issues involving people and families be so heavily politized and debatable when they shouldn’t be.

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