Binational Advocates Call To Reopen Friendship Park After End Of COVID-19 Restrictions
Friendship Park, and the binational circle that’s a part of it, has been a meeting place for families separated by a border wall that has only grown higher and longer in recent years. Advocates say it’s a vital space for reunions and healing, and one that hasn’t been open to the public during one of the most tumultuous times in recent history.
For over a year, Border Field State Park was closed, one of several state parks shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state park has now reopened. But Friendship Park, which is within Border Field State Park, has not. The Border Patrol, which controls access to the park, has not opened the gate on the American side to allow people to go into the circle and see their family members or friends.
They had told advocates that Friendship Park would reopen for 8 hours every weekend, once people could once again access it through the state park.
“In a meeting a few days prior to this past Sunday, we were informed that no, because of staffing purposes, the park would remain closed until further notice,” said Robert Vivar, with the Friends of Friendship Park. “Which, of course, is something we’re not very happy about.”
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said because of the influx of migrants on the southern border, it cannot staff the park. And that, “unfortunately at this time, we cannot reopen Friendship Circle until we have sufficient manpower to ensure it is safe for everyone."
Vivar thinks that reasoning doesn’t quite hold up. There are already several Border Patrol agents posted up at the site regularly on weekends — and he doesn’t believe letting a few dozen people into the park would require extra staffing.
He believes that with the rise in Mexican citizens trying to get into the U.S. through the desert or on boats, Friendship Park could act as needed relief for people who are hard-pressed to reunite with their families.
Vivar himself was deported, and came to Friendship Park on the Mexican side for refuge and comfort.
“People get desperate for their families. And they’ll do anything, and even risk their lives to be with their families,” he told KPBS. “In the past we have seen, just by them being able to visit at Friendship Park, they can continue to wait to be a family, but through a legal process, not having to try to put their life in danger by crossing the ocean or through the hard-terrain out in the desert and such.”
Supporters of the park hope it can reopen as quickly as possible — and definitely in time for the park’s 50th anniversary this coming August.