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‘Door of Hope’ is closed to cross-border hugs and weddings

Brian Houston of Rancho San Diego, left, and Evelia Reyes, right, of Tijuana, are married at the “Door of Hope,” part of the border fence inside Border Field State Park that was occasionally opened for families to temporarily reunite.
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Border Patrol will not re-open doors in the border fence at Friendship Park this year, ending a series of events that allowed chosen families to reunite briefly on the line between the U.S. and Mexico.

The agency has cooperated with six door-opening events organized by local nonprofit Border Angels since 2013. A surprise marriage ceremony between a U.S. man and a Mexican woman at November’s opening placed the events under scrutiny after reports of the groom’s criminal record surfaced.

Enrique Morones, founder and executive director of Border Angels, said that neither the wedding nor the groom’s conviction were the reason behind the change.

Morones said Rodney Scott, who was appointed chief of the San Diego Border Patrol sector in December, turned down Morones’ request to hold similar events in the El Centro sector when he was chief there.

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“He was totally against it,” Morones said.

When groom Brian Houston’s drug smuggling conviction emerged in the weeks after his abbreviated ceremony, Scott warned that the wedding could have repercussions.

“This unauthorized event has now jeopardized future events and the continued opening of the border wall door,” Scott said at the time.

An official statement from Scott on Friday ending the door openings did not mention the nuptials.

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“The maintenance gate being referred to is designed to allow safe, binational coordination between U.S. law enforcement personnel and our partners in Mexico,” Scott said. “Moving forward, the maintenance gate will be used for maintenance purposes only.”

The “Door of Hope” events, as Border Angels called them, begin in April 2013 and allowed family members who could not cross the border to reunite and hug for a couple of minutes.

Part of Border Field State Park in the southwest corner of San Diego County, Friendship Park is known for “pinky kisses” shared between family members separated by the fence.

In 2009, after the federal government added an additional layer of fencing, families had less access to interact with loved ones on the other side.

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The gate openings had run smoothly until Houston and his bride Evelia Reyes arrived in November to the Door of Hope event dressed in suit and white gown. The process of vetting applicants to participate involved Morones distributing questionnaires to families who cannot cross the border legally and then passing them on to Border Patrol for background checks and approval.

Houston couldn’t cross into Mexico to marry Reyes because he was awaiting sentencing for his conviction. In February, he was arrested after officials at the San Ysidro port of entry found 43 pounds of heroin, 47 pounds of methamphetamine and 43 pounds of cocaine in his Volkswagen Jetta, according to a court document.

The revelation about Houston’s record left Border Patrol agents and Morones frustrated and blaming each other for not knowing about his criminal history.

kate.morrissey@sduniontribune.com

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