SAN DIEGO (Border Patrol) — Demonstrators hand-delivered a 6-foot-tall heart-shaped Valentine’s Day card to the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector on Monday morning, asking officials to show some compassion and stop a border-wall construction project near the Pacific Ocean.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is starting work to replace two existing border fences that the agency says are corroded and unstable, endangering the public, migrants and agents who patrol the area.
Within these two walls lies Friendship Park, where for many years, for a few hours on weekends, agents allowed the public to walk up to the first fence to speak and meet with friends or relatives on the Mexican side of the wall.
But three years ago, Border Patrol stopped doing this.
When plans were announced last year to replace the walls in the Friendship Park area with 30-foot structures, they didn’t include a gate to let visitors inside the two fences.
Activist groups like Friends of Friendship Park mounted a public campaign to get CBP and the Department of Homeland Security to stop the construction of the new taller walls.
A few months back, CBP announced it would indeed build the new taller structures, but it would include a gate. However, no definite hours for access to Friendship Park were provided.
“These border barriers will devastate the visual landscape affecting the park and it will forever transform a unique place where families and community members have enjoyed to gather and share in friendship,” said Pedro Rios, a member of Friends of Friendship Park.
Rios said they still hope Chief Patrol Agent for San Diego Sector Aaron Heitke and CBP will stop the new construction.
“Chief Aaron Heitke has decision-making power to stop construction of these two massive destructive barriers,” Rios said.
But neither Heitke nor the Border Patrol has indicated they will stop the work.
In a statement Monday morning, CBP announced “a new path forward to replace the existing secondary fence” with the work set to begin this week.
It also stated: “The replacement of the primary and secondary fencing in the Friendship Park area will provide much needed improvements to the border infrastructure and will allow visitors on the U.S. side to access the Park, once construction is complete assuming it is operationally safe to do so, which has been closed for many years due to the condition of the existing fencing. This will allow visitors on the U.S. side of the border to communicate with friends and family located in Mexico on the other side of the primary barrier as in years past.”
But Rios and others maintain the public will not be allowed into the park during construction even on days when no work is taking place.
And Rios also stated there is no guarantee that access will be granted once the work is complete about six months from now.
“We want to make Chief Heitke and the rest of Border Patrol understand that Friendship Park is a significant and unique area for all of us here for thousands of families that for years have visited the park.”