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TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Nearly 600 Mexican couples tied the knot in a mass Valentine's Day wedding by the U.S. border on Thursday, many of them undocumented migrants who met while working illegally in the United States.
As a live band blasted out sugary Mexican love songs in the border city of Tijuana, a short walk from the busy San Ysidro crossing into California, a judge simultaneously married a crowd of couples whose ages ranged from 16 to 65.
More than three-quarters were migrants returning from, or trying to get into, the United States.
"Isn't she gorgeous? I love her!" said Inocencio Felix of his new wife Angelica Perez, 36, dressed in a flouncy white wedding gown. Perez was deported by U.S. immigration officials two weeks ago from the state of Oregon, where the couple met.
Felix, also living in the United States illegally, said he came back to the Mexican border city of Tijuana, across from San Diego, voluntarily for the mass open-air wedding.
"We're going to go back to the United States soon, our life is there," he said, holding a heart-shaped pink balloon.
Thousands of Latin Americans try to cross into California every year from Mexico but the construction of a fence between Tijuana and San Diego, and increased workplace raids and deportations in the United States have swelled Tijuana's migrant population. Many end up living in the seedy city for good.
Mexico's civil registry office began the mass weddings several years ago with migrants in mind, and has seen the number of couples attending surge as deportation rates grow.
"Many migrants do not have any kind of documents, not even a registered birth certificate, so they cannot get married, but we try to resolve that," civil registry official Silvia Alvarez told Reuters, her voice drowned out by cheering newlyweds.
Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Sandra Maler