Love may be eternal, but Brian Houston and Evelia Reyes had only three minutes to get married before the Border Patrol sealed the wall.
Houston stood on the United States side of la linea and Reyes was planted in Mexico when the priest said “you may now kiss the bride.” An unlikely international wedding was over with seconds to spare.
When the immigration officers swung the hulking metal doorway to a creaking close, the border was sealed again. Houston walked north and Reyes south, unsure of when they would kiss again.
Border Angels worked with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to open the U.S.-Mexico gate at Friendship Park for 33 minutes. It was the sixth such opening. It may be the last. Border Angels Founder Enrique Morones said he was not sure if “Opening the Door of Hope” will happen again under Trump’s administration due to tighter immigration laws and increasing tension with Mexico.
Love crossed the border as the corroded steel door separating Mexico and America opened and 11 families were able to reunite for three minutes each. Families spent 180 seconds in tear-filled embraces, not knowing when—or if— they would be able to hold their loved ones again.
Debates over the sanctity of the border wall have divided America throughout 2017. These 11 families—and many others—have been separated by the 21-foot wall for much longer than that.
Houston is not allowed to enter Mexico and Reyes is currently banned from entering the U.S. Their honeymoon will have to wait, possibly for many years. Morones said the border-straddling wedding was conducted to send a symbolic message that love has no borders.
“This wedding was held like any other, for love,” Morones said. “These three-minute reunions were very emotional, but also bitter-sweet. They all will tell you, though, that those three minutes were better than no minutes at all.”
Morones has worked with Border Patrol officials to sporatically re-open Friendship Park, a project of former president Richard Nixon, where Mexicans and Americans could picnic and recreate along the border. First Lady Patricia Nixon dedicated the park in 1971 when people could freely walk across the border and back. It was closed in 1994 during the anti-migrant fervor of Operation Gatekeeper and remained shut off until the first Border Angels “Love Has No Borders” event in 2013.
Nicolas Avila Herrera said he had not seen his family in 12 years. He was deported to Mexico in 2011 after spending years in prison for gang affiliations. Herrera’s son was 12 the last time they saw each other in person. He is 24 now. He said phone and video calls will never compare to holding his loved ones and meeting his grandson in person for the first time.
“I cannot describe with words what I am feeling right now,” Herrera said. “My heart is happy. I am waiting for that door to be open to tell my son how much I love him. The first thing I am going to say to him is I am sorry for not being with him during his childhood. I want to ask for his forgiveness for not being with him when he needed me the most. I just want to tell him how much I love him and I miss him.”
Carmen Gil-Sanchez, 49, a Tijuana resident, is also a parent whose heart was ripped in two by the border. The other half lives in Riverside, her beloved son Sergio Nino-Gil, 29. Gil-Sanchez had not seen him since she was deported 12 years ago.
“My joy is so big,” Gil-Sanchez said. “It doesn’t fit my heart.”
Gil-Sanchez brought Sergio to America in 1991 when he was three years old. She was deported when he was a teenager, but Sergio was able to stay under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Obama-era program protected him from deportation, though Trump’s rescition of DACA in October has put him at risk of deportation. Nino-Gil said it was devastating to watch his future ripped from his hands when he had never committed a crime. He is waiting for Congress to act. On this day, though, he will relish in the happiness of his children meeting their grandmother for the first time.
“Words are not enough to describe what I felt when I saw my mom and I was able to hug her,” Nino-Gil said. “There were so many emotions.”
Hugo Castro, Border Angels’ Baja-California Coordinator, said opening the Door of Hope is a way to combat the cruel immigration policies of Trump. Castro compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and said he fears America is slipping back into a fascist and totalitarian era.
“We want to reach the hearts and compassion of government officials so they can create fair immigration policies,” he said. “I believe the only way to change is to waking up a collective conscience and not be intimidated by the fear and hate that Trump is promoting.”
For 33 fleeting minutes fear and hate were pushed to the side by love and hope.