Local organizers win pause to replacement wall construction at historic Friendship Park

“The work at Friendship Park would not add more feet of border structure but would replace existing lower barriers with new, taller ones in the same design that the Trump administration favored,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. But community members and advocates, including Friends of Friendship Park, “began raising concerns” about the construction when “Border Patrol officials told them in a meeting earlier this year that the design didn’t include pedestrian gates to access the park.”

The plans, lawmakers including Rep. Juan Vargas told Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a July 27 letter, were “effectively barring public access for good.”

Daily Kos community member Vishal Singh noted in his piece last month that local advocates had condemned the project, pointing to President Biden’s campaign pledge to stop wall construction. They had requested a halt to construction for 120 days “so the plans can be better evaluated and the public can understand the potential impact of the new structures,” but border officials had declined that, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last month. Community members were also unable to view schematic plans for the project, after being told they would be to. The Biden administration has also “authorized completion of the Trump-funded U.S.-Mexico border wall in an open area of southern Arizona near Yuma,” NBC News reported last month.

“These two 30-foot walls extended across the face of this historic location will change the face of Friendship Park for decades to come,” Friends of Friendship Park coalition member John Fanestil told the outlet. “It represents in our view a desecration of a historic location on the U.S.-Mexico border. It will discourage public use of this space in the United States. And in our view, if completed, in the current fashion, will in effect close Friendship Park.”

In a statement this week, the Friends of Friendship Park called CBP’s decision to temporarily halt construction a “first step.” CBP did not say in its statement if the pause would be for the 120 days requested by advocates. That request had been supported by more than a dozen members of Congress, local lawmakers, and hundreds of community-based organizations and faith leaders.

 “Today’s response from CBP is a response to a vast and growing groundswell of support,” Fanestil said in the statement. “Friendship Park is a cultural treasure and a symbol of the border that so many people know and love,” he said. “It is a place of unique and enduring value not just to the people of San Diego and Tijuana, but to the peoples of the Californias and of the entire US-Mexico border region.”

“This is a welcome step in the right direction, and I urge CBP to work with federal, state, and local governments and community stakeholders as they move forward in preserving access to Friendship Park,” Rep. Vargas said. “I remain committed to advocating for this critical issue to protect Friendship Park’s history and legacy for our binational region.”

However, advocates did express worry at CBP’s statement that the department “is committed to opening the park a minimum of two days each month, allowing members of the public back into the park for the first time since 2019.” The Friends of Friendship Park said this would represent a 75% reduction compared to “even the most restrictive terms of access in the last decade.”

 Like Singh further noted, Friendship Park has been a meeting place for binational families with no other way to reunite, even if their only contact is to “press their fingers through the mesh wall to touch their loved ones,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in July. Former First Lady Pat Nixon was a visitor to the park, speaking at its inauguration in 1971. “May there never be a wall between these two great nations,” she said. “Only friendship.” Voice of San Diego reports that border fencing at that time was not much beyond some barbed wire.

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