Immigration

Three minutes to embrace on US-Mexico border

For 20 years, Laura Avila had yearned to hug her mother again. On Saturday, tears streaming down her face, the 35-year-old had her wish finally come true -- if only for three minutes.

(Sandy Huffaker | AFP)

SAN ISIDRO - For 20 years, Laura Avila had yearned to hug her mother again. On Saturday, tears streaming down her face, the 35-year-old had her wish finally come true -- if only for three minutes.
At 12:27 pm, she hesitantly walked toward a heavy metal gate on the US-Mexico border in San Diego that a US Border Parol agent had opened only minutes before, burying her face in her mother's embrace.
Avila and her 11-year-old daughter were among six families chosen to take part in an event organized by the migrant advocacy group Border Angels in cooperation with US authorities on the occasion of United Nations Children's Day on Sunday.

Six families passed through a gate in the US-Mexico border fence to greet relatives in an event organized by advocacy group Border Angels with US authorities to mark UN Children's Day
Six families passed through a gate in the US-Mexico border fence to greet relatives in an event organized by advocacy group Border Angels with US authorities to mark UN Children's Day (Sandy Huffaker | AFP)

One by one, each family was escorted to the opening in the steel fence separating the San Diego suburb of San Ysidro from Tijuana, in Mexico, and for three minutes -- under the watchful eye of border agents and a scrum of journalists -- hugged and kissed their loved ones who had waited on the other side.
"I last saw my mother when she was 50 and next week she turns 71," Avila, who lives in the Los Angeles area, said after the emotional reunion. "It was an early Christmas present for the two of us, and a birthday present for her.
"She had to take a four-hour flight from Puebla (in east-central Mexico) to see us," she said of her mother who had been deported after illegally entering the US.
Saturday's event -- the fourth organized by Border Angels since 2013 -- took on added meaning for those attending, coming on the heels of the election of Donald Trump as president.
Trump vowed during the presidential campaign to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and to deport millions of illegal immigrants from the country.
Whether Trump pushes ahead with his harsh immigration proposals was clearly on everyone's mind Saturday as the families hugged and cried, with many wondering if it would be the last such event to take place.

For three minutes, under the watchful eye of border agents and a scrum of journalists, a few chosen ppeople are able to hug loved ones on the US-Mexican border
For three minutes, under the watchful eye of border agents and a scrum of journalists, a few chosen ppeople are able to hug loved ones on the US-Mexican border (Sandy Huffaker | AFP)

"I am terrified," said Luis Hernandez, 25, who hadn't seen his father in five years.
His parents slipped into the United States through the border with Tijuana when he was five years old and his father was arrested and deported five years ago.
But Hernandez, like several of those at the event Saturday, was allowed to stay in the US thanks to President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA allows immigrants like Hernandez who arrived in the United States as children to work and study in the country on a temporary basis.
But many of these so-called "Dreamers" now fear Trump will repeal the action, leading to tragic consequences to some 750,000 recipients.

Since 2013, on only four occasions has the large gate along the US-Mexican border fence in San Diego been opened to allow a lucky few families to physically embrace
Since 2013, on only four occasions has the large gate along the US-Mexican border fence in San Diego been opened to allow a lucky few families to physically embrace (Sandy Huffaker | AFP)

«Touching the sky»
"What Trump has proposed is so scary for a lot of minorities, myself included," said Hernandez, who runs a television and Internet service in Los Angeles. "He has said he plans to undo the law that protects me.
"He doesn't even have to look for me. He has my address given that I'm in this program."
Still, he said he remains hopeful and had promised his father that they would soon hug again.
"It was like touching the sky," his elated father, Eduardo Hernandez, told AFP through the fence after the brief reunion.
"I just wish it could happen more often, and for longer than three minutes."
The area where Saturday's reunion took place is called Friendship Park and it is where families from both sides of the border every weekend are allowed to speak -- and lock pinky fingers -- through the steel mesh.
But since 2013, on only four occasions -- including this Saturday -- has the large gate along that border been opened to allow a lucky few families chosen by Border Patrol to physically embrace.
Enrique Morones, founder and director of the San Diego-based Border Angels, said he hoped the park as well as reunions like Saturday's would continue with the new administration.
"My only message to Trump is this," he told AFP. "Love has no borders. And he should remember his roots and the roots of migrants all over the world".