New walls threaten reunions of migrants, families at Friendship Park

By Manuel Ocaño.

San Diego, Jul 7 (EFE).- The California immigrant community is lamenting the plans to build more walls in Friendship Park, the inheritance of the Donald Trump era, which they say will further separate immigrants living in the US from their families in Mexico, loved ones they can only see through small openings in the existing border wall.

This international park, founded in 1971 near San Diego by then-first lady Pat Nixon at the southwesternmost point of the US as a symbol of the unity and solidarity between the two countries, has been closed for some time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now though, San Diego activists who have looked after the site for more than a decade are rejecting the imminent construction of two additional walls parallel to the current barriers, saying that they are not mere “remodelings” as the authorities have claimed.

The park was divided by the frontier barrier years ago, but thousands of immigrants have gone there to make personal contact with their families in Mexico through the bars and small openings.

But the Joe Biden administration’s plans are making that possibility of personal contact even more remote.

Activist Daniel Watman told EFE that top border officials said that the walls are to be built with funds allocated for that purpose in the 2018 budget passed during Trump’s 2017-2021 administration.

The project should have been launched in the first half of January 2020 but when Biden came into office on Jan. 20, 2021, he ordered construction of the border wall halted, Watman said.

The explanation for resuming the wall construction work, he said, is that the project was “suspended” but not “canceled.”

The budget was approved along with funds that the Trump administration used to replace the old 10-foot-high metal barrier erected in the early 1990s with the current barrier made of 30-foot-high iron pillars filled with earth.

Gabriela Serrano, a resident of the Mexican city of Ensenada, said that the park is the only place where she can look through the small wall openings to see her children, who are so-called “Dreamers” living in the US.

Until the closure of the park due to the pandemic one might regularly find citizens of assorted Latin American countries on the Mexican side meeting with immigrants, relatives and friends on the US side who had arrived from places as far off as Seattle or New York.

Rev. John Fanestil told EFE that the US Border Patrol had informed him that they are just “replacing walls,” but he added that the proposed construction is like a permanent closure of the US side.

Fanestil is the pastor of The Border Church, which used to offer a Sunday religious service on both sides of the park.

Watman and Fanestil lamented the Biden administration’s recent approval of construction work at several sites along the US-Mexico border.

They said that although much of this work apparently simply “replaces” the existing wall, design protocols approved during the Trump administration are being utilized.

They said that the plan also commits Biden and all future US administrations to continued spending to maintain the border wall.

The Border Patrol closed the area to the public in 2020 due to the pandemic and also because they said that polluted water was flowing across the border along the pathway leading to the other portions of the so-called Border Field, which is administered by the state of California and within the limits of which Friendship Park is located.

A spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection in San Diego confirmed to EFE the plan to build additional walls.

The official said that the project will replace main and secondary barriers that have “deteriorated,” including at Friendship Circle, a picnic and barbecue area where families meet and connect.

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