Chula Vista City Council unanimously supported sending a letter advocating for public access at International Friendship Park on Tuesday to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after it announced plans to replace border fences, effectively ending access to visitors.
Friendship Park, otherwise known as El Parque de la Amistad, sits on the western-most end of the U.S. Mexico border just south of San Diego. On July 9, the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas approved plans to construct two 30-foot walls across the binational meeting place, effectively ending access to visitors.
According to the DHS, the plan would replace deteriorated barriers adjacent to Friendship Circle. The agency said that the primary barrier was not properly treated to withstand corrosion from the ocean before it was installed.
“This is important because it affords the ability for folks who are unable to cross for whatever reason to reach their hands through, and maybe touch the fingertips, or see someone that is very near and dear to them in person,” Councilmember Jill Galvez said during the city council meeting.
In 2006, the U.S. federal government took the land by eminent domain from the State of California. After waiving dozens of laws intended to protect public spaces, the federal government constructed an elaborate system of walls across the face of Friendship Park.
The San Diego Border Patrol officials opened the U.S. side of Friendship Park in 2011 for limited hours each weekend. Visitors from the United States would be allowed to speak to loved ones through the thick metal mesh that now covers the "primary wall".
In February 2020, Border officials closed off the park to the public in the United States.
“It's imperative, with the majority support of our council, that we asked the Biden administration and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure there is in the new redesign of that wall, there is public access. That's very important to us culturally,” Galvez said,
During the meeting, Flor Hernandez, a Prevention Specialist with Partnerships for Success Program, a project of the Institute for Public Strategies, encouraged the city council to advocate for accessibility to International Friendship Park “so it can symbolize binational friendship and nurture connectivity between people".
According to Hernandez, “the border will continue to sever familial ties, continue to breed mistrust towards our institutions, and promote a message of fear towards our southern neighbors and continue to cost lives”.
UC San Diego found increasing numbers of high-severity injuries occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The injuries were attributed to the height increase of the border wall from 17 feet to 30 feet stemming from a Jan. 24, 2017, executive order Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements signed by former President Donald Trump.
Despite these changes, Customs and Border Protection reported the wall was breached over 3,000 times from 2019 to 2020, resulting in severe life-altering injuries and deaths.
“We wish for the community to be consulted. Current enforcement efforts do not consider the community as they should. Decision makers would rather listen to administration officials and law enforcement, which sometimes have little-to-no understanding of the region's population culture. The wall will reinforce Customs and Border Protection's role in separating families in some way and border residents rather than to be seen as a valued partner,” Hernandez said.