With a creak and a groan, the heavy steel gate on the fence between the U.S and Mexico at Border Field State Park slowly swung open on its rusty hinges just after noon on Saturday.
A trio of Border Patrol agents pulled it open wider, revealing a tightly packed crowd of Mexican citizens and media with cameras peering north.
For much of the next hour family members from the U.S. side walked partly through the gate — into the waiting arms of family members and relatives in Mexico.
For three minutes, each family hugged, cried, tousled hair of children or grandchildren some were seeing for the first time, then bid a tearful goodbye.
And this time there was a first: a wedding.
It was the sixth time that the gate — known as the Door of Hope — had opened since 2013. The gate is inside Friendship Park, a small strip of land where families from both sides can meet and exchange greetings — but not touch — through the heavy screen of the fence.
Brian Houston of San Diego, dressed in a light gray suit, embraced Evelia Reyes, who was in full bridal regalia of white dress with train and veil. They signed a few documents from the Tijuana municipal authorities, posed for pictures, embraced — and became husband and wife.
Houston is a U.S. resident who said he could not go into Tijuana, but declined to elaborate. His new wife can’t enter the U.S. legally, so the two decided they would try to get married on this day when the gates opened.
He said they worked with Enrique Morones, the executive director of the Border Angels group that organizes the event, to arrange the brief ceremony.
He said the choice was purposely done to communicate a larger message.
“It’s a statement that love has no borders,” he said. “Even though we are divided by a giant fence here, we can still love each other on both sides of the fence.”
He said the two speak by phone daily. They have an immigration attorney who is working on getting her a green card to join him in the U.S., which could take more than a year.
They were the last of the groups of families to meet inside the gate.
Morones said that Border Angels fields many requests from families each time a gate opening is scheduled. Those names are forwarded to the State Department, which makes the final decision on who will be allowed to reunite after conducting a thorough check.
Most groups had tears in their eyes as they met and hurriedly exchanged a few words, or clung to each other in impassioned group hugs.
The event took place about 15 miles west of where the eight prototypes for President Donald Trump’s border wall have been built on a dusty patch of the border on Otay Mesa.
The 30-foot tall barriers made of concrete and other construction materials are the most visible symbol of Trump’s promise to crack down on immigration and further fortify the border with Mexico. None of the prototypes have a gate or door included in the design.
The contrast was not lost on Morones, a longtime immigration advocate.
“While some people want to build walls, we want to open doors,” he said after the event was over.