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Old Border Fence To Get A Second Life


The old U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Diego was going to be sold for scrap. But local activists managed to save some of it and have plans to recycle it.

— The big rig's trailer was painted in the Border Patrol’s signature olive green; the agency’s name emblazoned across it in white block letters. As it rumbled onto a residential street in Logan Heights on Jan. 10, neighbors peered out from their windows and yards.

If the truck aroused suspicion in the largely Mexican immigrant neighborhood that day, it was unfounded. The Border Patrol, it turned out, was making a special delivery.

Workers unloaded a stack of rusted corrugated metal panels and deposited them onto the dimly lit ground floor of a former bread factory as architect Jim Brown, the building’s owner, looked on.

He was now in possession of roughly 100 feet of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

The Border Patrol recently replaced about 900 feet of the fence at Border Field State Park near Imperial Beach. It's part of the ongoing effort to heighten, thicken and refortify the fence in strategic areas along the border where it says drug and human smuggling are a problem.

But in San Diego, activists didn’t want to see the fence’s old panels just tossed out. Much of the fence on the Mexican side was covered in murals and graffiti painted by artists who oppose the fence on principle.

When members of a local advocacy group called Friends of Friendship Park found out private contractors were going to sell the old fence’s panels for scrap, they asked the Border Patrol to let them keep them.

They got about 100 feet. A Border Patrol representative said the agency was happy to turn the metal over, since it was going to be recycled anyway.

Now the Friends of Friendship Park - named after the area where loved ones separated by immigration status long met to talk through the fence before construction blocked access on the American side – is trying to decide what to do with its new acquisition.

Brown, the architect, said he can see the panels potentially incorporated into an art piece or even a building.

“It does have a very negative connotation,” he said of the fence material. “But, then again, that material in the right hands could be transformed into something entirely different. You could make a lot of statements with that material.”

He said the group has no immediate plans, and will decide what to do with the panels at some point in the future.

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