A week ago, Donald Trump signed an executive order to build the wall he had been promising for months as presidential candidate. The order stated that wall “shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier…” Three days after his announcement, fronterizos responded with “Hugs not Walls/ Abrazos no Muros.”
Organized by the Border Network for Human Rights, which was founded in 1998 to advocate for human rights and immigration reform, Hugs not Walls brought together hundreds of families who had not seen each other for years. One group of family members had been separated for 27 years. The separation of families arises from many sources: poverty, immigration status, immigration policies, or fleeing violence, among others. Each family has its own story.
At Friendship Park on the border of Tijuana and San Diego, families also have had the opportunity to see each other for a few minutes. First Lady Pat Nixon inaugurated Friendship Park in 1971 when only a small barbed wire fence divided the two nations. She asked that the fence be cut so she could visit with a group on the Mexican side. It is reported that she said, “I hate to see a fence anywhere.”
In the succeeding years, fences have been built.
Donald Trump’s executive order comes 100 years after the passage of the Immigration Act of 1917, a bill that was the harbinger for an increasingly closed border. The legislation called for a literacy test and an $8 head tax. Although meant to keep out Europe's poor during the First World War, its effects were felt on the southern border as well. The creation of the Border Patrol in 1924 was a second step in tightening the border.
By the 1990s, Operation Hold the Line and Operation Gatekeeper increased the surveillance of the border by Border Patrol officers, leading to increasing deaths of migrants trying to enter the United States through the deadly Sonoran desert.
For a century, we have found the courage to reach across the border to connect and reconnect. I know that in the painful days and months and years to come, we will continue to have the courage and the corage to remember each other's humanity.