THREE MINUTES ALLOWED
"While some want to build more walls, Border Angels, opens doors. Love has no borders....we hope to open 'door of hope' 3 times, next year! Si se puede!" Executive director, founder border angels, Enrique Morones
For the sixth time in history, on November 18th, the 'Door of Hope' was opened at the U.S./Mexican border, to allow twelve families who have been separated by deportation, to re-unite. Three minutes was all the time allowed. In these few minutes, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, along with their young children, stood at the intersection of Mexico and the United States and clung on to each other with desperation while feeling that touch, that connection, along with the pain from their time apart. These intimate moments occurred in front of a crowd of spectators and border patrol. I admit it felt as if we were intruding. As I witnessed and photographed each of these twelve families, I was mindful of what it means to document these reunions, at the expense of exploiting these families’ misfortune. Yet for each of those who had waited years for this chance to see their loved one, their longing and excitement displaced the awkwardness of being on display. If you have three minutes to bask in the love and remembrance of your partner, or your mother, or your child, the outside world is a blur.
Something happened to all of us in this crowd. We were united by these families’ love and longing. We cried. We were humbled by their grace. We were uplifted by their joy, watching young children meet a grand parent or an uncle for the first time. Sisters who could just hold onto to each other for the entire three minutes and then had to be torn apart again when their time was up. The brothers, who at first were sensitive to being watched, quickly moved in to huddle with the entire family. But it was in the eyes of the children that we could see a deep confusion. A child does not understand why their family suffers. Their questioning looks said it all. The circumstances that have broken these families apart feel very wrong.
The visitations were carefully choreographed. Families stood in line until it was their turn. Then they were escorted, by border patrol, to walk fifty feet to the door of hope, where their loved one was waiting in anticipation. From the instant they made contact there was not a sound in the crowd. We all lost that sense of being strangers. Even border patrol was sensitive to the emotional mood.
Media was cordoned off on the right. I zoomed in on a mother who saw her daughter for the first time in years, and neglected to carve out my spot in the press line up. I usually can inch my way in, but cameras were set up on tripods and photographers stood shoulder to shoulder. There were few options of where to set up so I could capture the full perspective. Granted there was not the full view since we could only see what was taking place from the U.S. side, however I did notice that on the Tijuana side the press was allowed a wider birth. I knelt low on the ground and shot with my long lens to bracket the reuniting.
As it turned out, this provided a unique angle and I disappeared into the close ups of that first kiss, or the cuddling of the baby, or the grandpa whose gaze was directed to his grandchildren waiting in line, because they were not allowed to join in. He reached out with his hand, as if to touch them, and his yearning sent shivers through me. He lit up as he saw his treasured granddaughter smile back at him. This frail man’s face held a lifetime of struggle and defeat but in that moment he was a proud parent. By then my face was damp with tears.
Throughout this afternoon what amazed me the most was the reaction from border patrol. There were six officers there, five men and one woman. You would think they have developed a thick armor to ward off the profound sadness that comes with these separations. Yet through my lens I found their hearts wide open and compassionate. Each of these officers felt grateful to be a part of these unforgettable moments, even though the moments were fleeting.
The last man in line stood tall and proud in a white/grey tux as he walked to meet his bride and make history as the first couple to get married in that slight opening between the U.S./Mexican border. This was the moment of joy and laughter. The bride wore a splendid white wedding gown, with veils and pearls and a corsage. Her beautiful daughter was the perfect flower girl, bursting with excitement. In three minutes this couple reconnected, got married, and experienced the full ceremony with just enough time to embrace each other and twirl the little girl up into the air. Like an honor guard, border patrol lined up in the doorway, to witness this matrimonial finale.
The rangers stood in formation, against the metal fence, to signal that time was up. Enrique Morones, the initiator of this landmark event, stood by as the door of hope slowly closed. The rangers lifted the thick metal rod into place as it clamped shut. The sound of that finality struck the hearts of those walking away with the reality of once again being without their loved one.
This event is only possible because of Enrique Morones. He is the tireless crusader who has helped countless, caught in the snare of deportation. His organization, Border Angels, delivers pallets of water weekly on the Mexican side of the border. Enrique and his foot soldiers prevent unnecessary deaths for those who are risking their lives to seek a better life. The Door of Hope will not open again until March of 2018, and that is only if the Trump administration allows these reunions to continue.