SAN DIEGO, CA—The late Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldua once called the U.S.-Mexico border “una herida abierta,” an open wound on the seamless skin of the earth—a metaphorical and physical barrier that has kept unknown thousands of families apart.
Last Saturday, a tiny slice of that barrier—a metal gate on the western edge of the San Diego-Tijuana border, in an area called Friendship Park—was unlocked to allow five children on the U.S. side to reunite with family members on the Mexican side, for three minutes each. Most of the families had not embraced each other in years.
The event was organized by Border Angels, a nonprofit that advocates for the humane treatment of immigrants, with cooperation from U.S. Border Patrol. Organizers timed the event to coincide with el Día del Niño, or Children’s Day, observed in Mexico each year on April 30th.
Families on both sides clung to the border wall trying to get a good look at their loved ones through the thick wire mesh, while the Adele anthem Hello played repeatedly in the background, with the singer’s lyrics blaring, "Hello, from the other side.”
There are an estimated 5.3 million children living in the U.S. with unauthorized immigrant parents, the vast majority of them born in the United States, according to The Migration Policy Center. In one year alone (2013), undocumented parents of U.S.-born children accounted for over 72,000 deportations.
The U.S. has deported more than 2.8 million people since 2008, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Every kid deserves to have their mom and dad," said Elisa Callejas, a college student who attended the event. "This is a human right and their rights are taken away for no reason. They’re innocent and need to have their families back."
The threat of deportation can cause severe stress and anxiety among children with undocumented parents or siblings. Nearly 75% of undocumented parents reported that their children had experienced symptoms of PTSD, according to a 2013 report by Human Impact Partners.
Many children are too young to understand the political context that they and their parents are placed in due to their citizenship status, explainedLaura Díaz Soberanis, president of the Border Angels Association.
“It's so important that [the children] know that they weren't abandoned by their parents," she said. "[They are separated] because right now there exist laws that are unjust."
This content was made possible by a grant from The California Endowment and produced independently by Fusion’s Rise Up: Be Heard Journalism Fellowship.
Gabriela Espinal, from San Diego, recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where she earned degrees in art history and visual culture, and feminist studies. For the past three years Gabriela was a part of the student broadcasting organization Rainbow TV, a group that would film and edit live productions put on by the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center at UCSC. More recently, Gabriela has been working with Media Arts Center San Diego in their Teen Producers Project, a program that gives local youth access to video cameras and editing software so they can engage in digital storytelling as a means of self-expression, communication and social change. As a fellow, Gabriela is interested in reporting on housing insecurity, immigration reform, human rights concerns along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the school to prison pipeline. Gabriela is very excited and grateful to be working with Fusion as a Rise Up: Be Heard fellow.