AURORA, Ill. (WLS) -- A family reunion decades in the making took place in Aurora Thursday.
Elderly couples traveling from Mexico were able to visit family they haven't seen in as many as 30 years.
The day was filled with emotional meetings as families reunited at the First Presbyterian Church in Aurora.
Tears of joy, long hugs, kisses and wordless expressions of love overwhelmed many because what do you say the first time you see your mother, father, child or grandchild in more than 20 or 30 years?
"I have so many things in my head but the first thing is going to be just holding her. Tell her how much I love her," said Edwin Garcia, who last saw his mother 25 years ago. "I can't describe how I really feel. So many things at one time."
"I was supposed to come for five years," said Jose Montes, who last saw his mother 21 years ago. "You say I'll be back next year and next year and next year and next year. And look at me now. I've been here 20 years and still haven't been back. The last time was 2001. I came here on January 17. Ever since, I never go back."
So many pivotal life moments that should have been shared but weren't.
"Especially when I had my first baby, I wished she could be here with me and help me," said Natividad Pacheco, who last saw her mother 20 years ago.
"Last year I was really sick with COVID-19. I almost passed away. And the worst thing I was thinking of was my mom -- not seeing my mom anymore," Garcia added.
The reunion between 25 families from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, which is one of the poorest in Mexico, was made possible by a cultural exchange program that facilitates passports and visas for people over 60 whose undocumented family members are living in the U.S. and who ordinarily wouldn't be able to obtain a tourist visa on their own.
"We have reunified over 1,400 people," said Ivette Moran, with First Lady Of Oaxaca. "We are just so happy. This is an act of love and it is a beautiful program."
It was, without a doubt, an incredibly joyful occasion, but for some, it was also bittersweet.
"My dad was supposed to be here too, but he passed away two years ago," Pacheco, said.
"We have a better future here, but we have no family here. That's the hard part. A better life but at the same time a hard life," Garica said.
While in most cases those arriving will be here for only a few weeks, the benefit is that this does not have to be a one-time visit. Their visas are now extended for a ten-year period, which will allow their families to come together now as often as they wish.