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New Biden border wall plans would put an end to Friendship Park

Newly revealed plans to replace the San Diego border fence at Friendship Park would block access to the space people used for decades to meet loved ones separated by the border, local activists say.

Advocates from Friends of Friendship Park said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials told them that the primary and secondary border fences along the park will be replaced with 30-foot walls.

The new designs do not include a pedestrian gate, said Rev. John Fanestil of The Border Church.

“This latest announcement really amounts to the complete desecration of this historic location,” said Fanestil, a longtime Friendship Park advocate.

In an emailed response to questions from a KPBS reporter, CBP officials confirmed plans to build new fencing in the area around Friendship Park, saying the current fencing is no longer structurally sound. However, they did not answer questions regarding future public access to the area.

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Friends of Friendship Park
Undated photo of 30-foot Trump wall (left) now scheduled to replace the current “secondary wall” at eastern edge of Friendship Park (right). VIEW: 1/4 mile from the Pacific, looking East.

Fanestil said he is particularly disappointed that the Biden administration is in essence moving forward with former President Donald Trump’s plans to rebuild parts of the southern border wall.

He points out that during the 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden explicitly promised “there will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.”

“We believe that the Biden administration should not be putting the finishing touches on Donald Trump’s border wall at Friendship Park,” Fanestil said.

Unique Access

For decades, Friendship Park was the only place along the southern border where people in the United States could see, talk to, and even touch relatives in Mexico. Most of the park’s visitors were members of what activists call “mixed-status families,” or families in which relatives don’t share the same immigration status and are sometimes barred from crossing the border legally.

For those people, Friendship Park was the only way to share a physical space with their loved ones, said activist Robert Vivar.

“This is the only place that families were able to be families,” Vivar said.

Reunions aren’t limited to people from San Diego and Tijuana. It was not uncommon for families to fly from Seattle or New York City to San Diego just for a chance to see their families in Tijuana.

A few couples separated by the border even managed to get married at Friendship Park.

CBP blocked access to Friendship Park in February 2020. Heavy rains that year forced state officials to temporarily close Border Field State Park. Friendship Park is a sort of park-within-a-park – only accessible by walking through Border Field State Park.

“We were kind of under the illusion that when Border Field State Park was going to reopen, they were going to reopen Friendship Park as well,” said Rev. Seth Clark. “But that has not happened.”

Friendship Park has remained closed throughout the pandemic.

No real change

Members of Friends of Friendship Park said CBP did not seek their input while designing the new border wall.

Fanestil called it “a slap in the face to the bi-national community.” He and others plan to reach out to elected officials and pressure the Biden administration to alter its course.

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Friends of Friendship Park
Undated photo of the Public Event Gate in secondary wall at Friendship Park (completed in 2011). New construction plans include no Public Event Gate in the replacement wall.

There hasn’t been much change along the border between the Trump and Biden administration, activists said.

“That’s really disappointing because there was this promise that things were going to be different,” Clark said.

Clark said the current closures have a dramatic impact on families separated by the border.

He has seen several groups of people come to the park — not knowing that it is closed — only to be turned away by CBP agents. Recently, a family flew all the way from Seattle to see loved ones through the fence. They too were turned away, Clark said.

“Every time that happens it’s still a tragedy,” he said. “It still breaks our hearts when we see that.”

New Biden border wall plans would put an end to Friendship Park