Friendship Park is a half an acre plaza overlooking thePacific Ocean at the southwest corner of the continentalUnited States. The plaza sits atop Monument Mesa, a six acre state park property with restroom and picnic facilities, and part of a larger 800-acre Border Field State Park. At the center stands a monument marking the first meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Commission in 1848. The binationalFriendshipGarden of native plants runs alongside bothU.S. andMexico sides of the primary fence, and east side of the plaza. Friendship Park was dedicated in 1971 by then First-Lady Pat Nixon as a symbol of binational friendship. For decades, the park has served as a meeting place for families on both sides of the border where grandmothers, aunts and uncles visit with family members on theUS side. Social events as well as binational environmental clean-up efforts have been organized at this park, including yoga classes, salsa dancing, baptisms, weddings, and kite-flying festivals.
Operation Gatekeeper’s “Primary Barrier”
In the fall of 1994, in response to widespread public hysteria about the unauthorized migration of workers between San Diego and Tijuana, Operation Gatekeeper authorized the construction of a single border fence along a 14-mile corridor eastward from the Pacific Ocean inland to the desert chaparral of East San Diego County. The first phase of Operational Gatekeeper focused on enforcement along the first five miles of the border, beginning at the Pacific Ocean. The original barrier was built of old metal aircraft carrier landing mats used in the Vietnam & Gulf Wars.
The fencing used along the top of Monument Mesa in Friendship Park was an open-weave metal, and this fence type allowed families to gather together along both Mexican & U.S. sides of the fence and chat, relax and enjoy each other’s company comfortably.
Binational Friendship Garden of Native Plants A binational garden of native plants, started in 2007 by locals from both Tijuana and San Diego, fosters cooperation and friendship as young people learn to value and protect the native plants and our unique coastal environment. The garden is tended by a coalition of twelve environmental organizations in both Tijuana and San Diego, and has brought together various groups including young children from the Border Patrol Explorers and local students and environmental activists.
New Border Wall: In April 2009, a “fenced corridor” along the border at Friendship Park was built. The barrier has three layers: 1) the primary barrier at the border, 2) a 20-foot wide border patrol access road, and 3) a 20-foot wall of steel metal bars. A third small post & cable fence delineates the border between federal property appropriated for the border wall and the state park which the wall now runs through.
The wall runs the entire length of Monument Mesa, from Yogurt Canyon on its eastern flank, down the beach into the ocean. In November 2009, a small pedestrian barrier was built near the primary barrier and border monument, allowing park visitors limited public access.
New rules for public access to the gathering place leave families feeling like they have entered a maximum security prison on visiting day: visitors must wait outside the border wall 150 feet away from Friendship Park, seek permission to enter a locked gate, then be escorted by a border patrol agent into a “security zone,” a five-foot tall pedestrian barrier that confines the space of the concrete circle of Friendship Park. The barrier keeps park visitors at least four or five feet away from the fence. No longer can lovers entwine their fingers nor grandmothers kiss their grandchildren through the fence—no touching is possible because of the distance created by the barrier.
Surf Fence Project In November 2011, construction began on a “Surf Fence” Project, to replace the old bars that form a barrier on the beach and extend 300 feet into the ocean. The cost of replacement of the Surf Fence is estimated at $4.3 million.
Damage: The fenced corridor constrains public access to the plaza around Friendship Park making it difficult to use the park for its intended purpose—to meet up at the fence itself and socialize with people on the Mexico side of the fence.
Estimated Cost: $71 Million for a 3.5 mile “fenced corridor” segment from San Ysidro Port of Entry to the ocean. “Surf Fence” Project $4.3 million
Political Opposition: Bob Filner, (D-51st Dist.) Susan Davis (D-53rd District), John Garamendi, Lt. Gov. of California, Denise Moreno Ducheny, California State Senator; Christine Kehoe, California State Senator; Mary Salas, California Assemblymember; Lori Saldana, Assemblymember; Donna Frye, San Diego City Councilmember; and Ben Hueso, San Diego City Councilmember have sent letters to President Barack Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano to save Friendship Park.
Security Issues: Statistics show that the primary fence of 1994 combined with increased enforcement was highly successful in San Diego, calling into question the need for the additional costly triple barrier system. Since 1994, crossings in San Diego and El Paso dropped to less than one third of earlier levels, while the other nine sectors of the 2000-mile border reported a 20% increase in the number of migrant apprehensions. Current figures for San Diego show that since the implementation of the single, primary fence and increased enforcement in the early 90s, unauthorized crossing in this area was already reduced by 94%.
The untold story here is high human cost of all the border walls. Since Operation Gatekeeper was instituted in 1994, over 5600 innocent men, women and children have died in the attempt to migrate from Mexico to the U.S. through our borderlands, driven from their homes by the economic collapse in Mexico caused by NAFTA, and by increased violence as drug cartels have eased their way into the economic vacuum. Drawn here by a once-robust U.S. economy and the concentration of capital and jobs on both sides of the border, migrants have been pushed into the most dangerous areas of the desert southwest in order to cross.
Alternatives to Border Wall: The primary concern is to retain public access to Friendship Park, and various plans have been proposed including a small walkway, an entrance from the beach, and a gated entrance through the wall. Friendship Park is unique as a gathering place both historically and culturally: along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, no other site allows visitors from both nations to gather in a park setting. Friends of Friendship Park is currently working with the San Diego architect James Brown of Public Architecture and Planning on a design for Friendship Park that will restore public access and will also meet the security needs of the border patrol.
For more information, please see our website at Friends of Friendship Park
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