As Work Stops, Opponents Of The Border Wall Chart A New Path Forward
Since the beginning of the Trump administration, over 25 miles of 30-foot high border wall replacement and new border wall have been built along the border in San Diego county. As recently as last week, work in several areas, including in the Otay Mountain wilderness, was ongoing.
But on his first day in office, President Biden ended a declared national emergency on the border. He gave construction workers along the border one week to wrap up their work, so they could leave it in a safe condition while his administration reviews the entire border wall project.
Workers had just begun preparing to tear down mesh fencing at Friendship Park, right near the Pacific Ocean, to make way for another 30-foot high replacement project. Advocates for the park had been rallying against the project for months.
“President Biden had said ‘not another foot of wall’ would be built on his watch, so that led us to hope there would be this immediate halt. We’re pleasantly surprised that actually happened,” said John Fanestil, with the Friends of Friendship Park.
Many advocates didn’t expect the Biden administration to take such immediate action along the border.
Elsewhere on the border in San Diego, members of the Kumeyaay nation continued their protests against wall construction. They filed a lawsuit over the summer saying the government skipped necessary reviews into whether construction would destroy their cultural heritage site as the government continued to build the wall near Campo.
“To me it seemed like an edifice that was created for white hegemony and also xenophobia,” said Stan Rodriguez, a member of the Kumeyaay nation who has led protests against the wall. “It marginalizes native people because it completely discounted the rights we have on the border.”
Biden’s order stops all construction, regardless of whether it was being paid for with money appropriated specifically for wall construction. That includes funding that was redirected by the Trump administration to the border wall from the budget of the Department of Defense. Multiple judges have ruled that Trump’s move was illegal, but border wall construction proceeded anyway.
As of this Tuesday, construction had halted at projects across San Diego county. That gives groups like the Friends of Friendship Park a last-minute reprieve to try to stop a project that would replace border fencing that’s only a decade old.
Robert Vivar, who was deported from the U.S. and works with Friends of Friendship Park from the Mexico side, thinks this is a great opportunity to reassess both the border wall project and the future of shared spaces along the border.
“This would be an opportunity for a dialogue to start regarding similar binational parks all along the border, to really look at creating security along the border through friendship of both countries,” Vivar said.
A 60-day review of the border wall project will determine what’s to be done with the money appropriated for the border wall, and whether to resume or terminate projects.
The administration hasn’t made clear whether its pledge not to construct more border wall includes replacement projects. Almost all of the construction done in San Diego county under the Trump administration could be qualified as “replacement fencing.”
“Our objective is to make sure the Biden administration understands that even a replacement wall still has not only deadly consequences but has the potential of changing the local ecological habitat, and defaming cultural sites,” said Pedro Rios, a steering committee member of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. “That’s an important conversation that can only take place when an impacted community is consulted about how to restore the lands and how to mitigate the damage that has been done.”
The Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment from KPBS on its plans for the border wall and whether it would continue with replacement projects, or consider taking some walls down.
For groups opposing the border wall, like the Kumeyaay, the path for the Biden administration is clear, says Stan Rodriguez.
“The prior administration broke many of its own laws to put this edifice up. No wall stops people. There’s other solutions to this. A great person like a great country keeps their word. Keep your word. Stop it. Make things right.”