At this year’s Hugs, Not Walls, also known as ‘Abrazos, no Muros’, approximately 200 families reunited at the U.S.-Mexican border on the Rio Grande on June 19. The annual event brings families together from the United States and Mexico, some of which have not seen their family members in years.
This year marks the eighth Hugs, Not Walls, where many families, most of them separated by deportation, were able to reunite, embrace, and hug each other for three minutes. People of all ages, including fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings, and children, participated in the event. After the three minutes were up, families had to say their goodbyes to their family members to allow other families to reunite.
The event is usually held in May and October, but in the past couple of years, the event was held off due to security concerns from Customs and Border Patrol.
Fernanda Garcia, executive director at Border Network for Human Rights (BHNR), was able to work with CBP to bring the event back for June. The organization expects to host another Hugs, Not Walls, come October 26.
“Grab a hold of somebody and stand together in unity; we’re not going to allow racism to divide us,” said Michael Grady, pastor at the Prince of Peace Christian Fellowship.
Grady gave a prayer of the reverent. He spoke to families on both sides of the border and told them that they have the support of the African-American community in El Paso.
“The reason that we stand in solidarity is because we cannot stay silent,” Grady said. “If the law would change hearts, then what President Joe Biden signed the other day would end our struggle,” Grady said about Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, which fell on the same day as Hugs Not Walls
Still, Grady said, the problem of systemic racism exists. “Our struggle continues on the Mexican side of the border,” Grady said. “You are our brothers and you are our sisters. The blood is red that runs through your veins.”
The ‘Hugs, Not Walls’ event occurred days after Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that immigrants crossing the border are an “invasion”. Both representatives received backlash for their description of immigrants. On June 16, Gov. Greg Abbott announced in a press conference that Texas will use $250 million to construct a fence on the border of Mexico to mitigate unauthorized immigration.
U.S. Rep Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, who also attended the event, tweeted in response to Abbott’s announcement. “If people die again, blood will be on your hands,” Escobar wrote about the 2019 shooting at an El Paso Walmart where 23 people were shot and killed.
Garcia said that the immigration policy of the United States is responsible for “destroying” and separating families. “This event is a testament of love, but above all, it is an act of protest,” Garcia said. “Thousands of families are being expelled and separated and we do not want families to be separated any longer.”
In May alone, approximately 9,000 families were expelled into Mexico. “The government of the United States, the Biden Administration made a promise of immigration reform,” Garcia said.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have criticized the Biden Administration, as well as immigration reform advocates because the number of apprehended migrants increased from February to March by 71%. In March, 172,331 migrants were apprehended, a new high since May 2019.
Grady encouraged the crowd of families to continue protesting against immigration reform. “I challenge you to move your feet toward equality, move your feet towards accountability and move your feet towards unity to bring families together and to hug one another.”
Nicole Lopez can be reached at [email protected]: @nicoleilopez on Twitter.