EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)- The Hugs Not Walls event, coordinated by local non-profit Border Network for Human Rights, returned to the Borderland Saturday after its last scheduled date was canceled in May.
The event reunited more than 300 local families from both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border who gathered in the middle of the Rio Grande.
This event is typically held biannually, in October and May, but the event scheduled for Mother’s Day this year was canceled at the request of Customs and Border Protection who cited construction of the new border fencing and other security concerns.
“It was canceled last year because we didn’t have the political conditions to do it and I think that is probably an understatement that last year many things happened in our community, we saw children in cages, construction of border walls,” BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia said.
For only a few minutes, the border is opened to families on both the El Paso and Juarez, Mexico side to reunite with hugs, tears and smiles. Families participating said current immigration policies keep them from seeing each other across the border.
“My mom is undocumented and my grandma lives on that side as well so she is also undocumented,” Jennifer Frescas said. “They haven’t seen each other in probably 10 years so they’re only able to talk to each other physically through this event here.”
BNHR organizers blamed Border Patrol officials for the event’s cancellation in May but said new leadership and coordination with the federal agency has lead to a renewal of the event.
“What we’re seeing today is a new effort between Border Network in our communities to engage with Border Patrol in a way that is respectful,” Garcia said.
Garcia called the event a symbol for the two communities uniting as one through immigration.
“This is what immigration is about, it is about people, human beings and in that case is what we’re trying to highlight in this event,” Garcia said.
Participants were in tears as they embraced their loved ones, but said the long wait was worth it.
“It’s an event that gives us the opportunity to reunite even if it’s just for a moment, like what I tell my parents, it’s just enough to give us a push to continue fighting until the next time,” Esmeralda Rivas said.