These sandy beaches should be the scene of a family’s lazy Sunday afternoon picnic. There should be parents lying under beach umbrellas while kids fall over themselves building sandcastles amid the sound of splashing water and laughter.
Instead, at the Otay Mesa international border between San Diego and Tijuana along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, a wire fence protrudes above the white sand out into the clear blue waters, disrupting the scenery. On March 14, fathers, mothers and children pressed their faces and hands against the fence’s grid, straining to reach out to daughters, wives, and husbands on the other side of the fence. There were some smiles, tears and glimmers of expectant hope.
A chorus of “Sin Papeles!” rang through the air from the San Diego side, and a resounding, “Sin Miedo!” reverberated through the thick fence that divides the land. The call and response continued for a few rounds. Over the next few weeks, the words “sin miedo,” meaning no fear, became more than a chant. The chanters are part of the “Bring Them Home” action, organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), where some 150 individuals who had been deported from the US, or had chosen to return to their country of origin, crossed the border in groups of thirty-forty, over the course of eight days. The action’s main purpose: to reunite families that have been torn apart by deportation, even if it means defying borders.
“I am afraid, but I don’t let fear stop me from fighting for what I believe in,” says Elizabeth Lara, a 21-year-old undocumented activist from Yakima, WA. Her father, Dolores Lara, was one of the participants in the Bring Them Home action. Since he was deported three years ago immediately following an arrest from a DUI, Lara had not been able to see his children. He wasn’t allowed to say goodbye. He was placed under an ICE Detainer, a policy which allows the local jail to hold undocumented immigrants for transfer to immigration detention, regardless of whether they have been convicted for a criminal offense. Within days of his arrest, he was sent to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, one of the largest immigration detention facilities in the country, and subsequently deported to Mexico. Upon hearing about the Bring Them Home action, Elizabeth convinced her father to participate.
“He thought this was one of my crazy ideas when I first told him. But when he went to Tijuana for the training, and he met the other families who were also crossing, he knew it was real. It was very powerful,” says Lara. The trainings were organized by undocumented youth and activists. NIYA organizer Rosario Lopez says that the activists “don’t want the families to rely on us, or on attorneys and politicians. We want them to recognize their own power.” Lara was one of the thirty individuals who crossed on the first day. His 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, a US citizen, had also accompanied her father on his return journey. Her 11th birthday was approaching in a few days. “Being able to feel and touch my father was the biggest birthday present for my sister. She really wanted to spend her birthday with him,” says Elizabeth.