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Simple fence separates two worlds


It’s dominated national and local politics, it’s sparked debate in big cities and small towns, it has even given rise to vigilante groups, and tonight, it will be the focus of a live town hall broadcast. The issue is illegal immigration. San Diego County just may be at the epicenter of this debate. The county line ends at the Mexican border. There is a fence that separates the two countries, a park on one side, a popular beach on the other. Joanne Faryon takes us there.

The geography of the place is stunning. At the most southwesterly part of the United States, at the shore of the Pacific Ocean, is Border Field State Park.

It’s easy to go back and forth. The spaces between the poles are large enough for people to wander, and they do. On the American side of the fence, the beach is nearly deserted, just a few Mexican families mingling. They know they’re being watched by surveillance cameras on the hill and Border Patrol officers on ATVs are ready to swoop down if they stray too far on the American side of the shore.

On the Mexican side, a different scene entirely: a man on a bike is selling ice-cream to the hundreds of sunbathers. One family is admiring the fish they’ve just caught. There are rows of houses and apartments on the hillside. And in the distance, you can make out the sound from the bull ring a few hundred yards away.

And all along the fence, on that side of the boundary, are men and women, leaning and waiting. This is a place where families who are separated by this border come to visit.

Morones: There are people who have fallen in love here, people who have gotten married, and there’s people who come here to show off their family members with latest pictures, people who have picnics right here, on both sides of the fence.

Enrique Morones is an immigrant rights activist. He has seen many families reunite here at the fence, and on this Saturday afternoon, he acts as tour guide and translator. 

First, we meet 46-year-old Francisco Guerrero and his 23-year-old daughter Alehandra. Francisco is on the American side of the fence, his daughter on the Mexican side. Francisco is in the country legally. He’s trying to get his daughter a visa.

Guerrero: It’s just money, $3,000 more and then I can get my visa.

Closer to the beach we meet a soft-spoken young man, 29-year-old David Gomez. He crossed the border illegally 10 years ago, moved to Utah and worked as a busboy  for a Mexican restaurant. He thought he was home free until two weeks ago when he was visiting friends in San Diego.

Morones : Old town in San Diego … they had undercover immigration agents at regular buses checking peoples’ identification and found he didn’t have documents and they deported him.

David has been arrested twice in Tijuana because he doesn’t have identification. He doesn’t have a place to live or a job. He’s already tried two times to return to the U.S. Both times, he was caught immediately and sent back. He says he feels he belongs nowhere.

Forty-five-year-old Salvador Gonzalez rides up to the fence on his bicycle. He speaks fluent English and is anxious to tell his story. He moved to LA with his family when he was just a boy and in 1987 was one of the many illegal immigrants to be given amnesty. For nearly 20 years, he lived legally with his family in the U.S. until last year.

Gonzalez: I got busted selling drugs.

Salvador served his time in California and then was deported last month.

Gonzalez: I made a mistake. We make mistakes. The prison is full of people who are in and out of there all them time, this is not my case. I worked all my life. Have you ever tried to cross over?  I’ve done it. I went through over there and back and forth and I see the border patrol every day and I go, but not too far, cause he’ll drive by and I got to walk right back. There are times when it goes through my mind "keep running."

By the time we walk to end of the line, where the fence ends and the Pacific Ocean begins, the Mexican families on the American shore have been told to walk back to their side of the border.  The tide is out and the sun is low. The final metal pole looks more like sculpture than barrier as it recedes into the water. It’s a deceptively calm picture for a place that has been at the center of such tumultuous debate.

For KPBS, I’m Joanne Faryon

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