Hundreds of families who live on opposite sides of the southern border got to embrace last month—but for just a few precious moments. Roughly 200 families reunited at the Rio Grande as part of the annual Hugs Not Walls day, when officials briefly allow families “from both sides of the river with no legal means to reunite to reconnect for a brief embrace in the middle of the Rio Grande,” El Paso Matters reported.
Families are allotted just three minutes before organizers call time for the next families to embace. For people like Maria Aldama, it was the first time she’d hugged her mom in two decades. She drove 19 hours for the event. Aldama told El Paso Matters that “[t]ime hasn’t changed her. I see her the same way.” The drive was worth it, she said. “It doesn’t matter that I traveled 19 hours for three minutes.”
Last month’s Hugs Not Walls day marked its eighth year, and organizers said in a statement received by Daily Kos that “[a]t its core, #HugsNotWalls is an act of protest against inhumane policies and practices that deny families and individuals the dignity, respect, and safety they deserve.” The events require approval from multiple agencies, and this year was different from previous ones in that masks were required and all people from the U.S. side had to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Mother Jones reported.
“Those precious minutes of families reuniting offers a glimpse into an alternative framework of welcoming for our border, the New Ellis Island, and for our nation as a whole that is rooted in compassion, accountability, transparency, and solidarity to build more just institutions, policies, and communities,” Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) Executive Director Fernando García said in a statement received by Daily Kos. The organization cohosted the event with Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA), with Border Agricultural Workers Center and the Peace and Justice Ministry of El Paso Catholic Diocese cosponsoring.
Others who live in the U.S. and were able to hug their families included Esmeralda Esparza, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. She was able to reunite with her parents. While the federal government does allow some DACA recipients to apply for special permission to travel abroad, they must demonstrate its for “humanitarian, education, or employment” purposes. And this provision was decimated during the previous administration.
For some people, getting to hug for only three minutes might actually be more painful than not getting to hug at all. Maybe for others, three minutes is more than nothing at all. But no matter the case, it should be a moment to reflect on the fact that it doesn’t have to be this way. There is legislation right now in Congress that would allow families to reunite, and never again have their embraces with parents, siblings, and other loved ones cut off by a timer. But only if we are bold and courageous enough to pass it.
“Ultimately, #HugsNotWalls is a call to action urging us to be the best versions of ourselves, and a reminder to our leaders and all Americans that an inclusive and just future is within our reach,” García continued in the statement. El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar, a champion of immigrant families in the halls of Congress, also attended the event. “Today, families who’ve been torn apart by our broken immigration system were able to spend a few—but priceless—minutes hugging their loved ones,” she tweeted. “It was an honor joining @border_human for #HugsNotWalls. Together, we will continue fighting for a just immigration system.”
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