Border Patrol schedules closure of Friendship Park

Budget cuts to trigger April 7 closure

Weekend visitors to Friendship Park
  • Weekend visitors to Friendship Park

Friends of Friendship Park, a group with an interest in the unique spot at the southwestern corner of the U.S. where it meets Mexico, is planning to protest the closure of the park, scheduled for April 7.

"They have to close it because of sequestration," said Enrique Morones of Border Angels, "a non-profit organization supporting humanity," according to their website. "We have been meeting at the fence every Sunday for services and we have events and gatherings planned that we can't hold if the gates are closed."

Rodney Scott, deputy chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector, posted a notice of the coming closure on the group's Facebook page earlier this week:

"Due to the Federal budget sequestration, the San Diego Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol must take steps to ensure that it retains sufficient staffing to continue to meet its priority mission of providing border security. Budget reductions as a result of sequestration will result in mandatory furlough of USBP employees for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. Accordingly, Border Patrol resources must focus on mission critical enforcement duties only. 
Therefore, effective April 6th, 2013, and until further notice all public access to the area commonly referred to as Friendship Park, which must be accommodated by USBP personnel, will be temporarily suspended."

Dan Watman, of the Friendship Park committee, asked the Border Patrol to reconsider. Between two and four agents have been to opening the gate and overseeing events.

"I think I speak for the entire committee in saying that we are willing to work together with SD sector in coming to a reasonable solution that combines our job of maintaining and creating friendship and trust at the park with yours of enforcement to create a secure border," Watman said.

Once a loosely fenced area with the fence built around Monument 258 (marking the end of the U.S.-Mexico border as defined by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo), the monument disappeared behind two layers of new fencing added in the 2009 push to secure the area.

Photos exist of families meeting at the old fence, kissing babies, and sharing food. Nowadays, a Friendship Garden planted between the primary and secondary fences is a meeting spot for services and events.

Friends of Friendship Park fought a three-year battle with the Border Patrol to get the secondary fence redesigned and a gate added, and, since October, the agency's community liaison officers have been opening the gate to visitors and families on weekends.

On April 7 at noon, Friends of Friendship Park will hold a silent march from the entrance of Border Field State Park to the closed gate.

Scott, in his Facebook post, said the closure is temporary. "Access to Friendship Park will be restored once staffing levels support our ability to provide access again."

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I have long thought this area would make an excellent -- and well-used -- pedestrian access between the US and Mexico. There is plenty of parking on the US side, and existing roadway for shuttle buses to run to a connecting MTS bus or trolley route, with additional parking at one of the South Bay trolley stations. Imagine how that would help the economy. Might even pay for itself -- ease border pedestrian traffic and generate revenue to keep the park open as well. As it is, even with Friends of Friendship Park's admirable work, the park is way under-used and has been for decades. Has this idea ever been studied?

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