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Families separated by the border share hugs and tears at special reunion

On a recent morning, the U.S.-Mexico border seemed to blur briefly as hundreds of people lined up for the chance to see their loved ones on the other side. The Hugs Not Walls event, organized by the Border Network for Human Rights in coordination with U.S. Border Patrol, brings together relatives who do not have documents to cross back and forth. Special correspondent Angela Kocherga reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    One consequence of beefing up security at the Mexico border has been the splitting up of families.

    Special correspondent Angela Kocherga brings us a story about one opportunity for a family reunion.

  • Angela Kocherga:

    Hundreds of people lined up in El Paso near the border, just across from Juarez, for the chance to see their relatives who were waiting on the other side in Mexico.

    The family reunion was in middle of the Rio Grande, which along this stretch of border is a dry riverbed. The mood was festive and filled with anticipation.

    Rosa Barragan spotted her mother and other family members in the crowd standing on the Mexican side of the border. She's here to introduce her 6-week-old baby girl to them.

    After the U.S. and Mexican anthems, and a blessing from priests from both countries, the moment they'd been waiting for. The newest member of the family met her grandmother, aunt, uncle and a 3-month-old cousin.

    The two baby girls, born on opposite sides of the border, were the highlight the Barragan family reunion. The Hugs Not Walls event is organized by the Border Network for Human Rights, in coordination with the U.S. Border Patrol.

    It briefly brings together relatives who do not have documents to cross back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico. About 300 families got the opportunity to embrace their loved ones.

    The people wearing red T-shirts are with the Mexican federal police, and there are a lot of Border Patrol agents keeping an eye on this stretch of the Rio Grande as well. We were asked to wear blue shirts in order to identify that we're covering the event on the U.S. side of the border.

    And families who are coming over from Mexico, they're wearing white T-shirts.

    While the U.S. Border Patrol had a strong presence, agents wouldn't talk to us about the gathering. Hugs Not Walls started in 2016, and requires permission from both U.S. and Mexican authorities. This is the fifth event so far.

    Hilda Martinez came to hug her husband, a construction worker living in Colorado, before he was deported to Mexico. She and their five children made a 12-hour trip to the border to spend a few minutes with him.

    His wife said she never thought she could enjoy a brief moment so much. Each family had four minutes before the next group of relatives got their turn.

    Martin Portillo, a U.S. citizen, used the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend, Daisy Arvizu, in front of her relatives from Mexico. He wanted her father's blessing.

    As their minutes together dwindled, this dad asked his young son if he's become the man of the house. He then tried to comfort his little daughter with one last hug.

    On this spring day, for some separated families, the hard line that defines the border seemed to blur briefly.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso, Texas.

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