U.S. Border Patrol agents recently opened the so-called Door of Hope, a maintenance door in the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, to let a handful of families reunite face to face for three minutes. The moment was filled with tears and long-awaited hugs.
The Door of Hope is located in the border fence at Friendship Park where, on Saturdays and Sundays, families are allowed to "congregate" and spend time with each other on opposite sides of the fence, each in their respective country.
Gabriela Esparza was among those chosen to be at the door April 30 to meet relatives. She lives in California and normally sees her family in Mexico through the fence at the border most Saturdays. But with the emergency door open to walk through, this time was different.
"We just started crying," Esparza told CNN after reuniting with her mother and sister. "When I last saw them, I was 16. And now I'm a mom, I have my family. I still can't believe that this happened."
Esparza is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. She benefited from an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 that offers protections to young immigrants, allowing them to work legally for two years.
The policy, however, is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) order, in the case U.S. v. Texas.
The April 30 initiative was held in honor of Mexico's "El Dia del Nino" or "Children's Day," and was organized by Border Angels, a San Diego nonprofit organization that advocates for immigration reform.
Enrique Morones, founder and executive director of Border Angels, told VOA that this is the third time the nonprofit has promoted the opening of the border gate near San Diego and Tijuana. The first time was in 2013, when one family could reunite for only two minutes. In 2015, four families were able to spend time together, and this year five families participated.
According to Morones, his nonprofit gets "lots of interest" once it begins to search for families who would like to participate. The organization forwards cases to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Border Patrol Agent James Nielsen said the agency then checks the names to see if there is any criminal history.
Nielsen added that agents attended the event to offer support and "make sure everything was safe."
"We just facilitated the event. We were there as the enforcement ... to make sure nothing bad happened in the area," he said.
The Fusion television channel reported that the Border Patrol canceled the event in 2014 because, the year before, a little girl ran toward her dad and jumped into his arms without giving prior warning.
Morones said the incident caused the agency to call off the event, but it returned last year when four families were given a brief moment to hug.
"We plan to do this at least once a year,” Morones said, adding that a celebration is planned this Sunday at Friendship Park in honor of Mother's Day.
But this time, mothers, daughters and sons will only be able to touch fingertips.