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Victory won in the struggle to defend historic Friendship Park

On Aug. 4, activists won a victory in the ongoing fight to defend Friendship Park on the California-Mexico border. After outrage and protests by local activists and concerned community members, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Chris Magnus ordered a halt to the construction of the double border wall that would effectively close the park.

Friendship Park is a binational park that was constructed in 1971 to serve as a reuniting place for families that are separated by the U.S.-Mexico border and racist U.S. immigration policies. The park has been under constant attack.

Authorities used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to shut down the park. Since 1994, families separated by the border have only been able to see and touch each other through tiny holes in a 14-mile metal fence. Then, on July 5, the Biden-Harris administration announced plans to construct two 30-foot walls across the entrance of Friendship Park, initially proposed by Donald Trump.

Community responds with rally at Border Patrol HQ

On July 26, the Friends of Friendship Park coalition responded by holding a rally outside Border Patrol’s headquarters in Chula Vista, California. Members of the Sunrise Movement San Diego, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Detention Resistance and others participated. Chants such as, “Whose park is it? Our park,” and “Make friends, not walls!” rang throughout the headquarters as supporters marched outside the entrance.

Members of several organizations spoke about the history of Friendship Park, militarized borders and the impact of colonialism in San Diego and across the world. Zach Farber from PSL San Diego said, “We need to fight to finish friendship park and then make many, many more … These borders are here as a vestige of colonialism and a part of the neocolonial way that the U.S. loves to do things.”

Zach Farber addressing the crowd. Liberation photo

The Friends of Friendship Park coalition met with Border Patrol officials on July 27 to debate the future of Friendship Park. The community’s request for a pedestrian bridge was ignored and the coalition was only shown renderings — not even a blueprint — of the planned construction.

The meeting concluded with the Border Patrol telling the community that the plan to put up the two 30-foot walls would continue as planned, but the request to pause construction would be taken to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Various community organizations and public officials support the call to stop the construction of the new walls and ultimately open up Friendship Park. Now the construction has been stopped.

Liberation News spoke with Dan Whitman from the Friends of Friendship Park. “Friendship Park recognizes that we are one community and gives people the chance to get to know each other across these societal and political impositions,” Whitman pointed out.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the park was only open on the weekends and for limited hours. The park was closed in February 2020, long before any other shutdowns in the United States. It remains closed despite a nearby park, Border Field State Park, opening up to the public last year.

Border Patrol claimed the closures were due to insufficient personnel, walls in need of repair and COVID-19 concerns. In a University of California San Diego study, researchers found that the border wall height led to an “unprecedented number of injuries and deaths” as people try to cross into the United States. This is the direct result of militarized borders and an immigration policy that terrorizes migrants and creates conditions in other countries which force people to leave their homes.

While construction of the double border wall is at least temporarily halted, the struggle to save Friendship Park continues. Local activists are demanding the removal of the metal fence and the construction of a binational garden for native plants as well.

There will be a Friends of Friendship Park stakeholders summit at the end of August, where community members can come up with potential solutions to save the park. For ongoing updates follow @friendshipparkusmx on Instagram.

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