On Saturday morning, families dressed in bright blue T-shirts assembled on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. Their relatives were just a few yards away, dressed in white, divided by ankle-deep water and the border wall.
Fernando Ramirez anxiously peered through the wall’s rust-colored slats, trying to catch a glimpse of his sister, Maria.
“I just want to hug her,” he said. “Let her know that I love her and miss her a lot.”
Ramirez, 47, said he hadn’t seen his big sister since 2009, when she was deported to Juárez. He lives in El Paso, where he works as a medical administrative assistant.
“We talk. I mean we call each other on the phone. We video chat also, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same [as] when you have her in person where you can actually touch her and hug her,” he said.
The brother and sister were among around 200 families who participated in the 8th annual Hugs Not Walls event this weekend, organized by the El Paso-based immigrant advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights. Last year’s event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The nonprofit works with immigration officials to create a space where families separated by the border and their legal status can briefly reconnect without fear of immigration enforcement.
This is the first year Ramirez heard about the event, and he rushed to sign up. He brought his wife and two young sons.
“I’m nervous,” he said. “I can’t wait for them to call us so that I can see her.”