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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Border Patrol Rushing To Build New 30-Foot Barriers At Friendship Park

 December 15, 2020 at 11:22 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Friendship parks. It's on the border between Mexico and San Diego overlooking the Pacific ocean. It's meant to tie the binational community together. It's a place where people meet, hold prayer services and reunions. It's a symbolic bridge and the Trump administration's final days, there are now plans to build a wall by replacing current fencing with 30 foot fencing, and some say it's a further desecration of the historic park here to talk about. This is KPBS reporter max Rivlin Adler max. Welcome. Hi, good to be here, max. Describe what the fence at friendship park looks like and how it will change. Speaker 2: 00:38 So right now there's two fences at friendship park that, uh, divide Tijuana from, uh, the, the border state park right there. So you've got around an 18 foot fence. That's made out of metal that abuts Tiquana, and that's where people have painted murals. People can reach their hands through and the slats that basically allow people to see through aren't very large at all. And then a few feet away from there is what you have is the secondary fence, which is much smaller it's um, on the beach, of course it's made out of chain link and then a little further up it's made out of, um, kind of normal fence that we would see maybe a little bit like a secure garage, something like that. So the changes that they're proposing is that both of the primary fence and the secondary fence will be replaced by these 30 foot high bollards that, and we've seen that across the rest of the San Diego sector is the replacement of a existing border fence. And of course, some of these were Vietnam era landing mats that they said no longer fit its operational needs. So you saw those, uh, be replaced in places a much further East. This is the first attempt to change it, uh, to the West and reaching right to the water. And so it's, it's proposing a radical change to the space because it's these two 30 foot high walls. Speaker 1: 01:54 So will these changes then impact the ability of visitors to see and touch friends and family. On the other side of the book, Speaker 2: 02:02 The idea of people just kind of being able to walk over to the friends from the U S side, that's not really a reality. Usually it has to be already worked out with border patrol to visit and see friends. And of course there's several times throughout the year that border patrol allows this to happen. Either for prayer services, family, or unions for awhile, they were doing weddings, things like that. So already it's very secure. Um, but what would happen with this, um, visibility would be that basically, uh, you wouldn't really be able to see as much as you currently do right now. It's in fact, you kind of have this moment where you could see through the fence and kind of imagine what it would be like without, uh, a border there, a border barrier. But right now, if you were to add those two fences, like they have on the rest of the border, I've been there. It's very tough to see through them. Speaker 1: 02:49 So why does the Trump administration say the fence needs to be replaced? Speaker 2: 02:54 Border patrol told me that it no longer fits its operational security, that these are outdated fences and that because of what they consider to be increased activity along the border, uh, that these need to be replaced. And the best way to do that would be these 30 foot high bollards. Speaker 1: 03:11 And what can you tell us about whether there have been problems with people crossing the border illegally at friendship park, Speaker 2: 03:18 Friendship park is a, and that area of the border is one of the most secure locations along the border. You always have a border patrol vehicle right up on that Hill. You have several video cameras and you have an aircraft that, uh, either a drone or a helicopter that consistently goes back and forth along the border. So there is a lot of eyes on it. Uh, that doesn't mean people don't cross people do at certain times, especially if there are days where there's a heavy Marine layer, which interferes with visibility, but much like the rest of the border. Um, if somebody does cross, um, a lot of them are apprehended fairly quickly and especially people are don't intend to cross at that location just because of how secure it already is. Speaker 1: 04:03 Mm. So what's been the reaction to this, um, additional fencing by people who use the park and other advocates. Speaker 2: 04:10 So for, uh, several years, uh, the group, the friends of friendship park have been working with the, uh, border patrol to keep this friendship park going and to make it accessible to the public. They believe this would be a serious change. John fan is still he's with the organization and he told me the park would lose its character. If the new fencing was built, Speaker 3: 04:33 The whole purpose of the place is by national encounter. And to build these intimidating walls, to make it feel more and more like you have to, you know, almost like you're visiting in prison, it's to really undermine the spirit of the place. Speaker 1: 04:46 Okay. So tell me about what friendship park means to the community. Speaker 2: 04:50 It means a lot from the two Quantis side. Uh, if you go over into Mexico, I know it's tough right now, but in the past, um, again, you could reach over and just kind of look into the U S um, and that's something that I think a lot of people don't really do as much as they could in San Diego and something that people really want to, um, the people behind friendship park want to encourage is come down to, uh, this beautiful state park that you have on the border and see into Tijuana, because right there, you have ply us to, to Quana, which is a, uh, thriving beach, uh, residential, commercial, uh, atmosphere, where people are having a community right up into the fence. So it really shows kind of the dual nature of, of our Tiquana San Diego city that are just divided by this wall. So people really feel that friendship park is what keeps these two sides of the wall together. And each step that's taken to divide, uh, the park, um, makes it harder to, uh, encourage this type of friendship that they really believe in. Speaker 1: 05:51 And in January us border patrol demolished part of the park, what can you tell me about that in January Speaker 2: 05:58 Border patrol, demolished friendship gardens. So in addition to the park, they run other areas. There's the marker of the first official part of the border. And then there's this garden, half of which is on the us side and half of which is on the Mexican side. And in January of last year that the us side was destroyed. Um, randomly one morning. And, uh, border patrol actually said a few days later that this was a mistake they apologized for doing it, and we're going to help, uh, in replanting it, of course, right now, if they were to replace the new primary wall, it would be destroyed again. Speaker 1: 06:34 So what would advocates of the park like to see happen instead of this fence? Speaker 2: 06:39 So advocates for the park next year, we'll be celebrating 50 years of the park. And since then, first lady Pat Nixon came to the park and inaugurated it and said that there's not going to, you know, I hope there's one day that there will be no fence. So they're going to be unveiling next year, a new plan for the park that will actually create that by national encounter. That fan is still talked about, uh, that that basically will allow people to see each other meet with each other, do so in a way that border patrol will be made feeling comfortable, but also as he says, doesn't make it seem like a prison. Speaker 1: 07:19 And for now, what is the timeline for this new fencing to be built? And, um, could the incoming administration change that? Speaker 2: 07:27 Yeah, it's entirely up in the air border patrol told me yesterday that construction won't be completed until late next year, but they've already told the friends of friendship park that they're going to begin construction shortly. And that contracts have already been issued. Uh, of course the Biden administration has said that they will build no new border wall along the Southern border. Of course, that's kind of a vague way of explaining it because this wouldn't be new border wall. This would be a replacement wall. And if the contracts are already given out, does that mean, you know, it's being built are basically, these are designed build contracts. So there's a lot of wiggle room for the Biden administration to either let this move forward or stop it. It's entirely possible seeing the reaction that people are having to this, that they will stop it. Um, then again, they might also because the Biden administration much like the Obama administration is going to be looking at having a deterrent, uh, posture along the South of South Western border. We might just let it go ahead. Speaker 1: 08:30 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin Nadler.

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For years, Friendship Park, on the US-Mexico border, has connected communities in the two countries through good times and bad. In the coming months, Border Patrol plans to replace the border wall on the site, drastically altering the park’s landscape.
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