U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is pausing its border wall replacement project in Friendship Park, agreeing, at least in part, to a plea made by park supporters who wanted to negotiate assurances for public access to the park before the new walls were built.
Friends of Friendship Park asked the government to stall construction for 120 days, but it's unclear how long CBP plans to shelve the project. The support group said they hope their request is honored," and that the pause will "lead to authentic conversation and collaboration" with CBP.
“We have heard concerns about the project as currently planned, and it is important to me to be responsive to the local community on this issue. I look forward to continued conversations with the community regarding this project during the pause,” said CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.
The Department of Homeland Security announced plans in May for new primary and secondary walls through the park, which didn't include a gate on the northern wall to allow for public access to the border barrier. That access has for decades given binational families a chance to greet face-to-face.
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Park supporters staged rallies in protest of the DHS's plan, which would have effectively ended the tradition.
Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, whose district includes Friendship Park, said in a statement, "Since its inauguration in 1971, Friendship Park has been a testament to the U.S.-Mexico relationship and has allowed families to come together. The proposed projects would bar public access to Friendship Park, preventing it from serving communities on both sides of the border. This is a welcome step in the right direction, and I urge CBP to work with federal, state and local governments and community stakeholders as they move forward in preserving access to Friendship Park."
Then, in part of a statement released July 26, the agency said it would "... identify opportunities to provide the public with access once it is operationally safe to do so."
That still wasn't enough for Friends of Friendship Park supporters, who also weren't pleased with the design.
John Fanestil, convener of the support group, said he and other supporters saw images of the new border wall construction plan July 27 at CBP headquarters. He says the footprint doesn’t change, but the bollard-style barrier is nearly twice the height of the current one and that it radically diminishes the visual impact and experience of the park and will discourage visitors.
"They can say they are putting a gate in it, they can say they will quote-unquote make it accessible, but the track record is they are not very good at doing that," Fanestil told NBC 7 during a rally last week. Later that day, Friends of Friendship Park asked CBP to pause construction for 120 days so they can negotiate assurances for public access to the park before construction starts.
Friends of Friendship Park said it had backing for the delay from Rep. Vargas and 14 other members of Congress, the California Latino Legislative Caucus and 160 religious leaders.
In CBP's statement announcing the pause, the agency said they are committed to opening the park for at least two days a month once the new walls are built.
The current walls are weathered and unsafe, according to CBP, which is one of the three reasons (staffing and the pandemic) why the agency has kept the park closed since 2020.
John Fanestil and this contingent of Friendship Park stakeholders saw images of the new border wall construction plan Wednesday evening at CBP headquarters. He says the footprint doesn’t change, but the bollard-style barrier is nearly twice the height of the current one and that it radically diminishes the visual impact and experience of the park and will discourage visitors.
"The United States Border Patrol is treating Friendship Park much like any other part of the border with little recognition for the historic, cultural, social, ecological significance of this location," Fanestil said.