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No Hugs at Friendship Park, but Families Reconnect Through Border Fence

For decades, Friendship Park has been the only place administered by the U.S. and Mexico where families can connect for a few precious hours through a fence.

There are no warm hugs or embraces, but for families separated by a border, this place is a lifeline and a chance for a much-anticipated conversation.

At Friendship Park, which straddles the U.S./Mexico border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, families can spend time with one another, albeit separated by a very well fortified fence.

The park was inaugurated by First Lady Pat Nixon on August 18, 1971 as a symbol of friendship between the U.S. and Mexico. “I hope there won't be a fence here too long," the First Lady said that day.

Decades later, it's the only place where both countries run a meeting point along the border.

Visitors are allowed to see each other every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To visit the park in San Diego, Aramara Oyervides walks along Imperial beach, through Border Field State Park, where a sign reading “Do not forget your documents” welcomes visitors at the front gate. It’s another 1.5 miles to the park, where they are greeted by a Border Patrol agent.

Oyervides is bringing her seven year old son to visit her mother, whom she had not seen in three years. Her mother lives in Acapulco, about a 34-hour drive from the border.

“This is the only way that we can see each other,” said Oyervides.

Oyervides worries about her mother; she has has lost three uncles to the violence in Acapulco. This was her first time visiting Friendship Park and it ended up being a very emotional visit.

“There isn’t that physical contact that you would want. Even though it's not there, at least I was able to see and talk to her,” she said.

On the Tijuana side of the border, the park is more welcoming. The fences are painted with bright colors and display signs reading "Poetry is for People with Dreams" and "A Future To Believe In."

Straddling the fence is a church service in English and Spanish held by Border Church, with a pastor on both sides of the fence.

“We do a communion service. So it's very enlightening to look for that strength that we get from strengthening our faith in Christ,” says Robert Vivar, a Friendship Park volunteer.

Vivar co-founded Dreamers' Moms and is the co-director for Deported Veterans Support House. He’s heavily involved in organizations that support those who have been deported; he was deported from the U.S. in 2011 after living in California for over 50 years.

Vivar works with Grijalva Law Firm to set up a table that provides free legal assistance to people who come to the park.

“It's not even limited to only immigration advice. We have attorneys within the group that come here and give advice on civil situations, on family situations. Families are being separated. They need help. So we have attorneys that help with family issues,” said Vivar.

It's 2 p.m. Families burst into tears as they say goodbye. But they are grateful for Friendship Park. They got to see and talk to their loved ones, even if it was through a metal fence.

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