SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — It’s been 600 days since Friendship Park was closed due to concerns over COVID-19, activists and environmentalists say it’s time it reopened.
The area sits on a bluff just above the pounding surf right at the U.S.-Mexico border between Tijuana and San Diego.
Until the pandemic began, it had been a popular gathering spot where families could meet with loved ones and talk with the border barrier between them.
“I’m asking the park reopen,” said Azucena Lopez. “It’s very important to us to have the park open because we are not able to go back to Mexico since we don’t have our documents, we have DACA but we don’t have legal documents to come back to the United States.”
Lopez says for six years the park has been the only way that allows her to visit with her parents and in-laws who live in the Mexican state of Jalisco, some 1,500 miles away.
“It hurts families who count on Friendship Park as a place to gather and also does a disservice to everyone who has used the park as a gathering place,” said Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee. “I have personally witnessed grandparents who have seen their recently born grandchildren for the first time with the wall between them, I have also witnessed a grandmother with terminal cancer who traveled from the state of Michoacan to say goodbye to her two grandchildren who traveled from Michigan for probably the last time they would see each other.”
Rios and others gathered outside the Border Patrol San Diego Sector Headquarters in Chula Vista, Calif. calling for the agency to grant access to the park once again.
“It’s time they open the park,” he said.
Among the people asking the Border Patrol to reconsider opening the park was Juan Vargas, who represents California’s 51st Congressional District, which runs the entire length of the border between California and Mexico.
“It’s a shame, a national shame that we have that wall there, that’s not friendship, that’s not a loving community, that’s just the opposite,” said Vargas. “There’s no reason the park shouldn’t reopen today, it should open today.”
When it has been open, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. primarily on weekends, Border Patrol agents limit and supervise people who are given access.
The agency says it has given careful consideration to reopening Friendship Park, but as of now, it is not the appropriate time.
“We understand and value the importance of the bi-national garden and friendship circle,” wrote Tekae Michael, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent. “However, with several U.S. Border Patrol sectors experiencing recent increases in migrant encounters, USBP’s San Diego sector has been tasked with support efforts to assist other sectors in the processing and placement of migrants on an appropriate immigration pathway. The operational need for this sector assistance is assessed daily based on the processing capability and facility capacity of each sector. Due to this redirection of available resources, USBP’s San Diego sector currently does not have the personnel to safely allow any access to the area.”