On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the border to announce a new “zero tolerance policy” on illegal border crossings -- even if young children are involved.
“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you -- it's that simple,” Sessions said. “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, we will prosecute you. And that child will be separated from you, as required by law.”
Most families crossing the border come from three Central American countries -- Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador -- where gang violence is rampant and children are often threatened.
As Sessions made his proclamation on the U.S. side of the border, anxious protesters stood on the Tijuana side of Friendship Park, waiting to hear how the decision might change their futures.
Maria Galleta is an activist working at Madres Deportadas, a group that -- among other things -- helps deported families adjust to their new lives in Mexico. She says many of the deported children “don’t speak Spanish,” so they have difficulty adjusting to their new lives.
Hector Lopez is director of Unified U.S. Deported Veterans. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1982 to 1988. After leaving the service, he was convicted of illegally selling marijuana to a police officer. He served four years in prison, two in a detention center, and ultimately had his green card revoked. He was deported a few days before Christmas in 2006.
Since leaving the United States over a decade ago, he has been living in Tijuana and doesn’t see his family.
Manuel Ocaño is a freelance journalist who has been reporting on the border for over a decade.
He says Americans, particularly American politicians, “don’t know us. They don’t have an idea of how we are. How we live, how we cross the border all the time, how we relate to each other. How we are just like a community with this fence, this ugly fence in the middle.”