El Paso, Texas – More than 200 families gathered on the U.S.-Mexico border just so they could hug a loved one for just a few minutes — four, to be exact.
It was the second "Hugs Not Walls" event, which brings together briefly siblings, parents, grandparents and cousins who live in Mexico but lack the proper documentation to come to the U.S.
Many of the families were separated after one or more of its members were deported.
To make sure everyone remained in their country of citizenship, the event was closely monitored by Border Patrol agents and their counterparts from Mexico. Everyone was color-coded as well, so it was very obvious where everyone belonged: participants and organizers from the U.S. wore blue and black respectively, participants and organizers from Mexico wore white and red.
The event was hosted by the Border Network for Human Rights.
One of the families was the Jaimes from Las Cruces, New Mexico. Yazmin Jaimes and her three children were eager to see their grandparents, who live in Ciudad Juarez.
The family waited in line along the fence, which keeps people from walking onto the river’s canal through El Paso. No water runs through the canal this time of year. Instead there is dirt, trash, and mud on the bed of the canal.
“Abuelo!” yelled Karla Jaimes.
“Abuelo!” mimicked Karla’s cousin, Sergio.
They peered across to a crowd of people on the Mexican side of the canal, all wearing the same white T-shirt, looking for their grandmother. The excitement was palpable.
Once they found each other, their grandmother became overwhelmed with emotion. She sobbed as held on to her grandchildren and her daughter-in-law.
“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.”
By the time she had given each family member a hug, it was over. Their four minutes were up and they walked back to their respective sides.
The elder Jaimes was deported from the U.S. back to Juarez nearly two years ago. Her husband followed her.
Now the children see their grandparents about once every six months. They say the deportation ordeal has been very hard on the entire family.
“We were really close. It really hurt,” said grandson Carlos Jaimes, Karla’s older brother. “But this today was really amazing and we were happy to come out here and do this.”
“I really miss them,” said Karla. “They took care of me.”
The family, with a total of 12 grandchildren, is optimistic that one day they’ll be living together again.
“We were a family that was really united. And this really tore us apart,” said Carlos. “It really hurt, but hey, we got to make the best of it and this today was amazing. [I’m] really happy to come out here and do this.”