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Friendship Park advocates deliver letters of protest to border officials

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Friends of Friendship Park
Undated photo of families between the U.S. and Mexico border is captured above. In 2011 Border Patrol partially reopened Friendship Park, allowing up to 25 people at a time to visit with friends and families across the international boundary. This vision of friendship between the people of both nations will be extinguished with the closure of Friendship Park.

Local immigrant- rights activists have ratcheted up their efforts to convince U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to scrap current plans to build a 30-foot border wall at Friendship Park.

On Wednesday, a group called the Friends of Friendship Park submitted letters from more than 400 faith leaders, activists, artists, educators, and medical professionals to CBP. It was the last day to submit public comments before CBP makes a final decision on the future of the park, which is located along the border near Imperial Beach.

“Our fear is that this proposal, construction of 30-foot walls, would effectively render Friendship Park closed to the public,” said John Fanestil, of Friends of Friendship Park.

This park, which has been closed since early February 2020, has long been the one place along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border where people living in either country can see each other in person. For some families who cannot legally cross the border, this park is the only way they can see and touch their loved ones on the other side.

People used to drive from as far away as San Francisco just to spend a couple of hours with family and friends in the park, Fanestil said. However, over the past decade, CBP has slowly restricted access.

The park was originally open to 25 people on either side of the border. That number was then reduced to 10. Before its closure in 2020, it was open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We are coming up on 1,000 days since the public has been allowed access to Friendship Park,” Fanestil said.

Among the letters activists submitted to CBP Tuesday, were those signed by elected officials who represent the area. They include: senators Alex Padilla and Diane Feinstein, Congressman Juan Vargas, County Supervisor Nora Vargas, and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.

“To be clear,” Gloria wrote to CBP. “The city of San Diego does not and will not support any plan that would replace existing border barriers at Friendship Park with a new 30-foot wall.”

Instead, Gloria said he would support replacing the existing fence and gate with a barrier of similar size.

Over the summer, CBP unveiled plans to replace the park’s gate with a border wall. But those plans were put on hold in August amid public outcry.

Activists were particularly frustrated that the Biden Administration was breaking a campaign promise to build, “not another foot,” of former president Donald Trump’s border wall.

CBP has been meeting recently with community members and accepting public comments regarding the park’s future. Activists expect a final decision from CBP by the end of the year.

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