“NO TOUCHING” THROUGH THE BORDER’S IRON BARS
It took two days on the bus for Catalina Cespedes and her husband Teodolo Torres to get from their hometown in Puebla - Santa Monica Cohetzala - to Tijuana. On a bright Sunday in May they went to the beach at Playas de Tijuana. There the wall separating Mexico from the United States plunges down a steep hillside and levels off at the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, before crossing the sand and heading out into the Pacific surf.
Sunday is the day for families to meet through the border wall. The couple had come to see their daughter, Florita Galvez.
Florita had arrived that day in San Ysidro, the border town a half hour south of San Diego. Then she went out to the Border Field State Park, by the ocean two miles west of town. From the parking lot at the park entrance it was a 20-minute walk down a dirt road to the section of the wall next to the Parque de Amistad.
At 11 that morning, Catalina and Florita finally met, separated by the metal border. They looked at each other through the metal screen that covers the wall’s bars, in the small area where people on the U.S. side can actually get next to it. And they touched. Catalina pushed a finger through one of the screen’s half-inch square holes. On the other side, Florita touched it with her own finger.
Weekend visiting hours, from10-2, are the only time the Border Patrol allows families to get close to the wall for the reunions. Once a year they open a doorway in the wall.
Watched closely by BP agents, family members are allowed to approach the open door one by one, and then to hug a mother or father, a son or daughter, or another family member from the other side. To do that, people have to fill in a form and show the agents they have legal status in the U.S. During the rest of the year, the Border Patrol doesn’t ask about legal status, although they could at any moment. For that reason, Border Angels tells families not to go on their own.
Such carefully controlled and brief encounters are the ultimate conclusion of a process that, at its beginning, had no controls at all. Before 1848 there was no border here whatsoever. That year, at the conclusion of what the U.S. calls “the Mexican War,” the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico was forced to give up 529,000 square miles of its territory. The U.S. paid, in theory, $15,000,000 for the land, but then simply deducted it from the debt it claimed Mexico owed it. U.S. troops occupied Mexico City to force the government there to sign the treaty.
The so-called “Mexican Cession” accounts for 14.9% of the total land area of the United States, including the entire states of California, Nevada and Utah, almost all of Arizona, half of New Mexico, a quarter of Colorado and a piece of Wyoming. Some Congress members even called for annexing all of Mexico.
Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Although many people remember the law for its amnesty for undocumented immigrants, IRCA also began the process of dumping huge resources into border enforcement.
The wall itself at the Parque de Amistad has become a changing artwork. As the bars rust, they’ve been painted with graffiti that protests the brutal division.
One section has the names of U.S. military veterans who’ve been deported to Mexico, with the dates of their service and death. A deported veterans group comes down on occasional Sundays, with some in uniform. In angry voices, they ask why fighting the U.S.’s wars didn’t keep them from being pushed onto the Mexican side of the wall.
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