There’s always something happening around Friendship Park — at least on the Mexican side. Families taking in the Pacific Ocean sunset, merchants selling street food, tourists snapping pictures by the wall.
The binational park has been the stage for numerous cross-border events — both high-profile and not. It had been a while since I set eyes on Friendship Park. So on a sunny Sunday afternoon earlier this month, I drove down to Tijuana to attend a service of the Border Church.
The park on the U.S. side has been closed since February 2020. Now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has announced its intention to soon proceed with plans to strengthen fencing on the westernmost stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. And opponents of the project have been stepping up their protests.
The agency, which includes the U.S. Border Patrol, is preparing to build two new barriers made of 30-foot steel bollards. Last month, CBP announced that it would move forward after modifying its original proposal to accommodate community demands by lowering the wall’s height to 18 feet along a 60-foot stretch. Authorities say the agency is “committed to providing visitors on the U.S. side of the border with access to Friendship Park.”
But members of Friends of Friendship Park, a group that since 2006 has been advocating public access to the space, is rejecting the plan. Members say the new fencing would decrease visibility and only further devastate a unique spot at the U.S.-Mexico border — one they argue should be preserved as an important meeting place for people on both sides, and a symbol of friendship between the United States and Mexico.
The group has accused President Joe Biden of “choosing to complete Donald Trump’s border wall,” despite a campaign promise that “there will not be another foot of wall constructed under my administration.”
Originally part of Border Field State Park, Friendship Park is a half-acre plaza that straddles the border – and on the U.S. side has been under the federal government’s control since 2006. Since a secondary wall was built in 2008, the U.S. portion has sat between the two U.S. border fences, a security area where the agents control access.
At the gathering I attended, a couple of dozen congregants sat in the shade of a canopy tent facing the wall as pastor Guillermo Navarette led a cross-border service, connected through a live video feed to a small group of U.S. worshippers two miles away. Together, they prayed for a group of migrants sitting between the border fences, waiting for processing by Border Patrol agents.
Tijuana’s gathering included several deportees, three young asylum seekers from Guatemala, a couple of U.S. expats — and 14 seniors from Regis Jesuit High School outside Denver, who were on a five-day school trip.
Harrison Gelfand, 17, said that before this visit to the border, “I didn’t really have an opinion on it. Now I think the wall seems kind of inhumane, not even being able to hug your family.”
Reaction to Most Recent Plan
CBP’s decision to replace the existing fencing prompted a group of 40 prominent Californians to write a letter earlier this month to President Biden decrying the changes, saying the changes will result in “cruelly and needlessly transforming a special place of gathering into an expression of division and disregard.”
Yet with the notable exception of U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, a Democrat from San Diego, who called the park “a treasure of the San Diego-Tijuana region,” I have not learned of any other elected leaders in San Diego County condemning the CBP’s modified plan released last month.
And while the U.S.-Mexico border continues to make national headlines, the Friendship Park issue has not. During a hearing last Tuesday by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, members heatedly debated the border and what it should be — but nobody was inquiring about Friendship Park and its future.
John Fanestil, a Methodist pastor who leads Friends of Friendship Park, told me elected officials who have Friendship Park in their district “have expressed sympathy with the Friends of Friendship Park position.” Yet the group is also, he said, “trying to clear that hurdle to get people to stop thinking about it as just a San Diego issue.”
Are they tilting at windmills? Fanestil thinks not. And even if the new fencing is built, Friends of Friendship Park has no plans to back down. “The struggle for Friendship Park is a struggle for justice on [the] U.S.-Mexico border. And because Friendship Park, in our view, is a symbol of that. That struggle doesn’t stop.”
In Other News
- Canceled concert: Following threats against Arturo Gonzalez — aka “Panther Belico” of the band Grupo Arriesgado, organizers and municipal authorities agreed to cancel a concert scheduled Saturday at Tijuana’s 17,000-seat Chevron Stadium. The cancellation came after gunmen fired shots into the air on Friday as band members gathered with fans at a shopping center and some threatening banners attributed to the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) were posted in different parts of the city, including outside a radio station. (Borderland Beat, La Jornada, AFN Noticias, Zeta.)
- Migrant deaths: Rising numbers of migrants crossing between Tijuana and San Diego are dying. According to the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, the total last fiscal year was 46, more than half of those from dehydration. (inewsource)
- Mexican-born space traveler honored: A mural honoring the first Mexican woman to travel in space was unveiled last week in Tijuana. Guadalajara-born Katya Echazarreta, 27, spent several years of her childhood in Tijuana before moving with her family to San Diego at age 8, she has worked on five NASA missions. The mural by Ivan Arevalo was done at the initiative of the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. (Union-Tribune, NBC 7 San Diego)
- Beach closure: The beach south of the border fence in Playas de Tijuana has been closed since Saturday and “until further notice” due to a pump breakdown that has led to a sewage spill. (El Imparcial, TV Azteca.)
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