Trump's order to build a wall reminds separated families of the fence that already keeps them apart

Many families are already familiar with a metal barrier on the border that separates them from their loved ones. But that wall is also their reunion site.
by Bianca Graulau and America Arias

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump ordered the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico. A few weeks ago, Amy, 23, and Stephanie Torres, 13, were making the mile-and-a-half hike to the one that's already there.

It's a double chain-link fence, rather than a wall, but it serves the same purpose of keeping immigrants out and families, like the Torres sisters and their mom, separated.

Amy Torres touches her mom's fingertips
 through the fence between San Diego
and Tijuana.

"It's been really hard," Amy, the older of the two sisters, said. "I had to take care of my little sister over here as if I was her mom."

Maria Torres first came to the U.S. on a tourist visa. She returned to Mexico to try to renew it when it expired five years ago, but the U.S. government denied it. She then tried to cross the border illegally and got caught. Her punishment is having to stay on the Mexico side of the metal barrier and only getting to see her older daughter through the thick mesh that denies them hugs.

"The fence is really closed up," Amy said. "You can barely put a finger through the fence."

But she still makes the trip with her sister on the weekends because being so close to their mom gives them temporary relief from the pain of being apart.

"How are you, my love?" Maria said in Spanish as she saw her daughters approach the fence on a Sunday afternoon. Then, a feeling of powerlessness sunk in.

"I feel so much frustration behind this fence. I would like to hug them for a moment, but they have rules here," Maria said before she put her head down to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.

Stephanie visits her mom in Mexico during school breaks because she's a U.S. citizen, but Amy is not. And if she were to travel outside of the country, she could risk not coming back.

 

Amy went five years without seeing her mother until last November, when she and her little sister visited a section of the border between San Diego and Tijuana called Friendship Park.

It's a meeting site for dozens of families traveling from all over the United States. They get four hours each weekend day and, as the end of that time frame approached, the sadness of having to good-bye yet again, intensified.

"I hope to hug you one day," Maria tells her daughter in between sobs. "I love you very, very much. I miss you every day."

"It was really hard, really bitter-sweet," Amy said as she walked back holding her sister's hand.

The walk back is more bitter than sweet, but the two sisters say they hope the conversation will shift from putting up more walls to the reconstruction of the immigration system, so that they can one day all be together on the same side of the border again.

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