Fence talkers break down the border barrier

Joanna Celaya, 31, with her brother, Adan, at the Morley Port of Entry in Nogales Ariz. It took her three years to see him again. Photo by: Joanna Celaya

Along the border in Nogales through a worn out metal fence with holes smaller than pennies, Joanna Celaya sees her brother for the first time in three years.

They talk, share stories of their lives for several hours. Here along the border in Nogales are the fence talkers people who come to share love with their families, people whom immigration laws in the U.S. separate.

“It is hard to see your loved one through a fence after not seeing her for three years,” says Adan Celaya. “I wanted to hug her and kiss her but I couldn’t.”

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), more than 400,000 undocumented people were deported in 2012. Adan was one of them.

This fence is their only hope to be together. But, they are not alone.

From the Rio Grande to Tijuana a fence separates thousands of families. They meet to catch a glimpse of faces through a red-rusted metal fence. Many talk about what it would feel like to be a normal family again. Many hope for a touch.

“It’s the worst feeling to see a sibling through a fence,” says Adan. “But, at least I got a chance to look into her eyes and tell her how much I miss her and love her.”

A family of four siblings who always find a way to be together is now enduring a crisis bigger than deportation. Adan was diagnosed with leukemia last year. He has been struggling in Mexico without the support and love from his family.

“I don’t know what I am going to do if something bad happens to my brother,” says Joanna. “I am scared of not seeing him again.”

Joana, 31, and Adan, 27, have been together through the worse times. In 2011 they crossed walking through the desert, while Joanna was pregnant with her third child. She got tired after walking for 10 straight hours. She told Adan that she needed to stop so she could catch her breath when they were half an hour away from their destination. A screeching hawk alerted Border Patrol Agents. They arrived immediately after.

“My brother could have run,” says Joanna. “But instead, he stayed with me until the last minute.” 

They were unarmed but still held at gunpoint.

Adan Celaya, 27, visiting her sister Joanna on Sunday Sept. 27, at the Morley Port of Entry in Nogales Sonora. They Spent several hours talking. Photo by: Adan Celaya
Adan Celaya, 27, visiting her sister Joanna on Sunday Sept. 27, at the Morley Port of Entry in Nogales Sonora. They Spent several hours talking. Photo by: Adan Celaya

“We have always been there for each other,” says Adan. “For better and for worse.”

They were deported the day after through different ports. Joanna left her two U.S. citizen children in the care of her mother and sister.

According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute, a research organization that focuses on social and economic issues, there are 5.5 million children living in the United States with at least one undocumented parent. When one or both parents are deported, they often have to choose between living with a parent in a different country or staying in the United States with their immediate family member.

A couple of months after her deportation Joanna crossed again. She got to Rio Rico, a town 14 miles from the border, after walking for 24 straight hours.

Joanna has been back in the United States since, without seeing her family. She has not seen her father who remains in Mexico since then. The day Adan and Joanna met, their father could not go with him.

Joanna says she wanted to see her brother sooner but she was afraid of getting deported again if she got too close to the border in these past three years. A couple of months ago, Joanna spent two weeks in a detention center. She got pulled over by a Tucson Police Officer for a tail light not working properly. The officer asked for the proper documentation but she did not have any. The officer then told her that he needed to call ICE.

“Do whatever you have to do,” Joanna told the officer.

After spent some time at Eloy Detention Center, she was released. This time the $7,500 bond she had to pay somehow protects her. But she still needs to go to court in Dec. 8 to see if she’ll be able to stay with her children in this country.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t pray to God so I can stay with my children,” says Joanna.”I also pray to see my father and brother one day.”

Adan explained that they keep in contact through social media and they are constantly calling each other.

“I wish we could see each other everyday as we used to,” says Adan. “But, I know this is a sacrifice we need to make for my sister and her children to be better one day.”

Silvia Sanchez is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at sanchezs@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high resolution photos.

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