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ICYMI: Families Reunite Along Border During “Hugs Not Walls” Event Ahead of Mother’s Day

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Border Network for Human Rights brings hundreds of families together in fifth cross-border event

El Paso, Texas –  On Saturday, more than 300 families from across the U.S. were able to reunite with family members who they haven’t seen, in some cases for decades, because they’ve either been deported or have been unable to come to the U.S. The event, Hugs not Walls, was hosted by the Border Network for Human Rights, and it’s the fifth time the organization has reunited families along the U.S. and Mexico border.

Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights, told those present on Saturday:

This is an act of love, family, an act of dignity, a protest act. Today, the border is the new Ellis Island. This is where hope starts. This is where the pursuit of happiness begins.

Mario Carrillo, Director of America’s Voice Texas, said:

Being there, and witnessing children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, embrace after years of having not seen each other, was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but feel that it shouldn’t have to be this way. These families are the victims of an unjust immigration system, and they shouldn’t count on only a handful of minutes to spend time with their loved ones.

This action was also a reminder that border communities often have to bear the brunt of this Administration’s attacks, but we know that in reality these communities are welcoming and vibrant and are often the first experience migrants have in America. The same was true for me when my family migrated to El Paso, and I hope that these types of actions remind us of how border communities represent America at its best.

View photos from the event here.

Below is an excerpt from a report from Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning Newson the action. Find the piece in its entirety here.

EL PASO — Martin Giovanni Portillo picked Saturday to propose marriage to his girlfriend, Daisy Arvizu, in front of family, including her father, in an unusual reunion in the dry riverbed of the Rio Grande. She said yes.

Alejandra Guerrero Hernandez, from Dallas, hadn’t seen her family in nine years and buried her face in her hands and sobbed at the mere sight of them. Erik Jimenez, 37, nearly fell to his knees when he saw his mother for the first time 17 years.

“It’s always special to see your mother, but especially on Mother’s Day weekend,” he said, tears rolling down his face. “You’re the best gift, mi hijo cacheton,” responded his mother, Ana Maria Zavala, touching her son’s chubby cheeks.

The whipsaw of emotions Saturday was part of the Hugs Not Walls event in which hundreds of families, many of them separated by deportations, reunited a day before Mother’s Day under the watchful eye of the Border Patrol. Some hadn’t seen each other for years, some even decades…

Saturday’s emotional drama played out against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s new stepped-up policy to prosecute parents who cross the border illegally with their children, separating their families in the hopes of deterring such crossings and sending a loud message to would-be immigrants throughout the world, particularly Central America: Don’t even dare cross illegally.

President Donald Trump and his administration have in recent weeks stepped up his campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration. Other efforts include building a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border; deporting unlawful immigrants with families here; ending the DACA program that allows unauthorized immigrant children to get permits to work and go to school; sending the National Guard to the border; and ending Temporary Protective Services protections for groups of immigrants that been have in the nation for decades, particularly Central Americans.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the border here and outlined the administration’s goal of “zero tolerance” as a response to what he called a “crisis” on the border, despite historic lows of illegal migration.

“The only crisis,” responded former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and Democratic nominee for U.S. representative, “is the crisis created in Washington. These people aren’t criminals. They’re hardworking families contributing to this country.”

On Monday, Sessions broadened the immigration crackdown to include more first-time crossers, asylum-seekers and parents who will be separated from their children to face prosecution. Children will be sent to juvenile shelters while their parents are sent to adult detention facilities.

“I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” he said in San Diego. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”