Like many American families, immigrant families also celebrated Easter this year with music, food and prayer. But this gathering in Imperial Beach, California at the Border Field State Park to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ was unlike any other celebration in the land of the free. There was no clinking of wine glasses to toast the day, no egg hunt for the children, no hugging of loved ones. Families were instead separated by a giant metal fence and monitored by armed border agents as if they were criminals.
Sadly many families could not join their loved ones on this day. If you are elderly or disabled, there's no possible way for you to make the journey. Just to get to the border fence requires a mile and a half hike down a sandy, rocky road that is littered with horse manure. Families are greeted with signs warning them of rattle snakes and information about how the area is contaminated with sewage. Border agents drive up and down the road on their ATVs and in their trucks, dusting those making the trek with the polluted sand. Then families must walk along the beach in thick sand and climb a small hill before reaching the area of the border fence that has a gate.
Loved ones must then wait for the border agent to open the first metal barrier so that they can then pass to the second fence. The agent warns everyone not to pass anything through the fence though it is near impossible to do so. In the past, the fence had open slats so that family members could hold hands. Today's fence has so much fine mesh attached to it that visitors can merely place their hands against it. No gifts for children or letters to loved ones are allowed.
Elena came to the border to meet with her boyfriend who was just arrested and deported a few weeks ago by ICE. "He didn't fight the deportation because agents threatened to arrest his family if he did not sign the forms," she said. Elena depends on him not just emotionally, but financially as well. She stated ICE picked him up near their home in Sacramento where he'd worked for years. After managing to scrape together enough money to get to San Diego, she was devastated when she realized she would not be able to move here to be closer to her boyfriend. Living costs are astronomical compared to Sacramento, and she has no family or friends here to help.
To their credit, agents present this year were noticeably more respectful of the situation and of the families. This has not always been the case as Christian Ramirez, the Director of two immigration rights groups, Alliance San Diego and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, pointed out. Some agents in the past would intimidate families by sitting in their trucks forcing them to approach and ask for them to open the gate. Being that their loved ones had just been arrested and deported by these agents, fear would sometimes cause them to walk the mile and a half back to their vehicles and leave without ever seeing their family members on the Mexican side.
Still, all the respect in the world cannot take away the fact that children are celebrating the Easter holiday staring through a fence while federal agents armed with semi-automatic weapons, pepper spray and tasers are just a few feet away.
El Faro: the Border Church/La Iglesia Fronteriza performed prayer services in both Spanish and English while families placed their hands on the fence. The Border Church is a regular here holding services every Sunday for those in need.
Also in attendance was the Caravan Against Fear, a grassroots effort by the SEIU (United Service Workers West Union) addressing immigration rights and the need to keep families together. The Caravan is traveling through California speaking to congressional leaders and immigration rights groups. They will continue their journey along the southern border through to Texas.
These are the circumstances that these families find themselves in. With this administration now charging immigrants with felonies instead of misdemeanors for simply seeking employment, agents can expect the numbers of loved ones making the hike to the border fence to grow.