SAN DIEGO — A San Diego lawmaker is calling on President Joe Biden’s administration to reverse course on a controversial plan to replace the border fences at Friendship Park, erecting two 30-foot walls and effectively ending access to visitors.
U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, a Democrat, wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the issue Friday, sharing the letter with the news media.
Vargas said the new walls “will destroy the intent of this binational park” by eliminating the pedestrian gates that allowed public access there. Officials used to open those gates for limited periods on weekends, allowing generations of families separated by the U.S.-Mexico boundary to mingle face-to-face at the barrier, even touching hands through the gaps.
That access has not been granted since the park closed for the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, however, and critics say new plans would end the tradition for good.
“Unfortunately, the design of this proposed new wall does not include a pedestrian gate, on either the primary or secondary replacement barriers, effectively permanently closing access to the public,” Vargas wrote.
That concern was echoed by members of Friends of Friendship Park, the volunteer group that helps maintain the binational space. Daniel Watman, who represents the group, told Border Report this week that his organization is “horrified” by the plan.
Vargas and the group say that beyond ending public access, current plans would also lead to the destruction of the park’s Binational Garden.
For its part, U.S. Border Patrol describes the work as badly needed repairs. Officials say the park’s two current barriers need to be replaced since corrosion has compromised the structures, making them unsafe for the general public, migrants and agents who patrol the area.
“The current primary barrier, which included a monument gate, was not properly treated to withstand the corrosion from the adjacent ocean before it was installed,” a Border Patrol spokesperson wrote in a statement to Border Report.
“It is no longer structurally sound and is falling apart … The current secondary barrier was partially removed in preparation for new barrier construction prior to the pause [on border projects nationwide].”
In his letter, Vargas also took issue with replacement walls’ dimensions, describing each as a “30-foot bollard-style Trump wall.” The congressman points to a recent UC San Diego study that found such barriers have led to an “unprecedented” number of injuries and deaths as people try to cross into the U.S.
Border Patrol officials, many Republican lawmakers and former President Donald Trump have repeatedly voiced support for new barriers along the border, saying they are critical to national security and immigration enforcement.
“Every mile of border wall system allows the agents who are out here every day to cover more area,” former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott told Border Report in an October 2020 interview.
Border Report’s Salvador Rivera contributed to this report.