Some would say it’s the right way to come into the country, others may argue it’s an immigration loophole. For one young couple, it’s their only legal way to be together in the U.S.
For over half a century the Progreso International Bridge has connected people from Texas and Mexico.
On this day, two people from two countries are meeting halfway to celebrate the strongest of connections: their love.
Diana Laura Silva, the 23-year-old bride-to-be, waits anxiously on the U.S. side for her family to arrive before they walk on to the bridge.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Cristian Ivan Barragan, waits patiently on the other side, in Mexico. He does not have the papers to cross into the U.S.
Their love story began two years ago. They both grew up with Mexican parents and went to dental school. Their relationship flourished when they began sharing a work space at a dentist office across the bridge in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico.
Once she crossed customs, Silva walked down the aisle, all smiles, before she was reunited with Cristian. They both stood on the side of their respective country.
Justice of the Peace Sallie Gonzalez officiated.
“To me, it’s an honor,” Judge Gonzalez said. “My father was from Mexico and my mother was from the United States, and they were married 60 years.”
During her 26-year tenure as judge, Gonzalez estimates having married thousands of couples like Silva and Barragan.
“Recently, it’s been more,” she noted.
Last year, Gonzalez performed approximately 30 ceremonies at the Progreso International Bridge.
Few judges on the border are willing to meet couples at the port of entry, and few ports of entry allow these ceremonies to take place. Gonzalez is the only justice of the peace out of 10 in Cameron County willing to do it.
“Nothing should stop love or a couple from being happy for the rest of their lives, regardless of where they were born or where they were raised,” Judge Gonzalez said.
Justices of the peace don’t typically track how many marriages are performed at the U.S.-Mexico boundary, therefore obtaining an accurate number is nearly impossible.
For Barragan, this is a path to legal immigration. It’s also a safety net in case things in Nuevo Progreso get ugly in terms of cartel violence.
“I do it so I can be with her on either side of the border, whenever necessary,” Barragan said.
Judge Gonzalez plans to continue performing these ceremonies as long as she’s able to. It took about 10 minutes to marry Silva and Barragan.
“I’m hoping and praying that immigration will give him his status so he can be with the love of his life,” the judge said.
After the ceremony concluded, the bride and groom walked with their families into Mexico to celebrate.