Just a few weeks remain to complete the nine-meter iron fence at the westernmost tip of the US-Mexico border. Separated migrant families have been legally reunited for years at Friendship Park between Tijuana and San Diego. Biden won't allow it anymore.
"Tijuana is gone," a girl on the American side of the fence said with a fleeting glance at the excavators and other heavy machinery about to begin the final phase of construction of the impenetrable border fence between San Diego and Tijuana. As the attached animation below shows, instead of the existing 5.5 meters high and relatively transparent but impenetrable fence, the new construction will make it virtually impossible to even see the other side.
The matter is all the sadder because this very spot has served for decades as a legal gathering place for immigrants to the U.S. who have been separated from their loved ones by the border. I myself visited this place from both sides of the border less than six years ago. It's called Friendship Park, and it's located on the westernmost bit of the border between Mexico and the United States. From there, the border barrier drops into the Pacific Ocean.
While on the Mexican side, it is a normal part of the city of Tijuana, where people can come and sit freely on the beach or on benches in front of the border fence, on the American side it is a guarded area enclosed by a kind of cage, where people were only allowed to go on Saturdays and Sundays, and only between 10 am and 2 pm, under the supervision of border guards. Even so, many people still did it because it was their only chance to see their loved ones in person. I had the opportunity to talk to people who had traveled from as far as the northern states of the US just to have a few hours of face-to-face conversation with their wives or children through the mesh for the first time in years.
Until recently, Friendship Park has been bringing them closer to that possibility. It dates back to the end of the Mexican-American War in 1849. For many decades, it was an open space where people from both countries could meet without restrictions and hold, for example, mass picnics, but as time went on, the rules tightened and the mesh of the fence became smaller, until at the time of my visit, it was barely possible to thread the tip of a pinkie finger through it and touch a finger of a counterpart.
The Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies took advantage of the covid pandemic to close the park to visitors, a situation that continues to this day. Although his successor, Joe Biden, ordered his predecessor's border wall to be halted on his first day in office and only the parts whose existence is crucial because of security issues, for example, completed, the local border patrol insists on building the structure.
The Friends of Friendship Park, the organization that maintains the site and its associated humanitarian activities, held a press conference on Thursday, where they again called on the Biden administration to stop the reconstruction of the already heavily guarded fence and its replacement with a higher and non-transparent barrier. In fact, construction on the final section has just begun, despite their long-standing protests and petitions. For example, the editors of the popular San Diego Union-Tribune and twenty congressmen appealed to Biden in May.
"Two weeks ago, we had an official meeting with officials at the White House. We're still waiting to hear back on whether construction can be stopped," Adriana Jasso of Friends of Friendship Park said at a press conference, June 8th.
When I asked how confident they really are that they can prevent construction at this stage, she replied: "It's a very complicated and difficult process. It is also no secret that there is an election year coming up. But it is important to remind President Biden that his campaign promise was not to build another foot of wall and that he will review the many damages and negative consequences of the previous administration. While we believe this is difficult, we think Biden should use his executive power to halt construction."
John Fanestill, also from Friends of Friendship Park, told me that the final phase of the new fence was originally estimated to take six months to complete, and construction was halted for a time earlier this year due to flooding. Therefore, he now assumes that unless Joe Biden changes his opinion, the new fence will be up during September.