SAN DIEGO – U.S. border authorities have launched a pilot project to once again permit families and friends on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to be able to see one another in San Diego’s historic Friendship Park.
The park, with a view of the Pacific Ocean, traditionally has been a meeting place for friends and relatives who cannot cross the border to see one another, although they remain separated by bars.
However, in February 2009, the U.S. government ended public access to this zone to continue with the construction of a second border fence, which ended the more than 40-year tradition.
Community organizations like Border Angels have negotiated with U.S. authorities to reopen access to the park, which will be on a limited schedule from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
The new regulation allows limited groups of people to enter the area near the park – which is divided by a mesh that prevents the passage of objects and physical contact such as handshakes and embraces.
In remarks to Efe, Border Angels founder Enrique Morones acknowledged that access “is not perfect,” but it is a pilot program that, if it works, authorities have promised to evaluate a year from now to see if it can be expanded to every day of the week with a more flexible time schedule.
His organization is also trying to get visitors the chance to have physical contact, a goal expressly articulated during the park’s inauguration on Aug. 18, 1971, by then-first lady Pat Nixon, who extended her hand through the division in the wall to greet Mexican residents.
German Castañeda, 26, said from the Tijuana side of the wall that the park provides the best opportunity to be able to see his children, who live in San Diego: Isabela, 6, and Isaias, 3.
“It gives me a lot of hope to have them close. I would like it if the bars were removed to be able to touch my children,” said Castañeda, whose wife Yesenia learned about the reopening of the park online and went there so that the children could have some kind of closer contact with their father.
The community liaison agent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Michael J. Scappechio, told Efe that his agency is seeking to use the opening of the park to encourage contact between the communities on both sides of the frontier.
Scappechio, who said that about 50 people came to the park to take advantage of the start of access on Saturday, added that the pilot program seeks to evaluate what the best use of the park is and if access will be expanded in the future.
Morones said that via dialogue with border authorities it has been possible to get access for larger groups holding special events, such as on days when a binational garden is maintained and for the Marcha Migrante, which in August took place with the presence of Mexican poet and peace activist Javier Sicilia.
Morones said that “love, like friendship, has no borders,” and added that it is important for the community to come to the park to show the authorities the importance of expanding access in the future. EFE