Friendship Park divided by border wall

by Ana Ceballos

At a time of commotion concerning immigration and a constant battle with drug trafficking across the border, the wall dividing the United States and Mexico is now accompanied by an additional 18-foot wall, which travels through Friendship Park, a recreational park created for friends and families to interact and facilitate encounters when dealing with separation from their loved ones caused by immigration.

Benches on the American side of the park are now only visited sporadically by those who, despite the harsh environment created by overwhelming surveillance, still want to see their friends and families.

Friendship Park, once called “a symbol of bi-national friendship” by former First Lady Pat Nixon in 1971, is now an accentuated symbol of inequality between the U.S. and Mexico, according to Ramona Perez, the director of the Center for Latin American Studies at San Diego State.

“Even at my most neutral moment, I can’t make sense of why they closed the park,” Perez said. “People met there to simply have communication with their loved ones. It’s not only ruined, but it made a huge statement that we (Americans) don’t want families to communicate, and that is not a good statement.”

According to Greg Rainoff, a filmmaker who directed and produced a documentary titled “The Wall,” the purpose of the wall is not fully comprehended by most Americans. Instead, it restates the American fear of immigrants who are stereotyped as Mexican criminals.

According to Rainoff, the 370-acre Friendship Park was the ultimate performance in a 14-mile stretch. Also, by having national attention, the park’s destruction was beneficial advertisement for the war against illegal immigrants and illegal drug trade, he said.

“Do you really think cartels were smuggling in drugs through tiny little holes?” Rainoff asked, addressing the belief that the park was shut down because several minutemen complained about seeing people in Friendship Park trading unknown objects or packages.

“If I were to smuggle drugs, I would not smuggle a pound when I still need to get out of a federal park,” Perez said. “And if I did, I would be a petty dealer causing no impact on the drug smuggling problem here in the United States.”

But according to Oscar Serrano, a border patrol officer in San Diego, the San Ysidro area may be a road where smugglers would pick up people and narcotics and possibly utilize stash houses.

“A primary fence in and of itself was not enough,” Serrano said. “We needed more time to respond when the illegal entry occurred.”

Southwest border research shows a 20 percent reduction in illegal immigration traffic throughout this past year caused by the building of the wall. However, there was a 7 percent increase in the San Diego area leading many to question whether this wall is making a significant difference in dealing with illegal immigration.

The cost of building and maintaining a double set of steel fences to avoid these border issues can cost as much as $49 billion throughout the expected 25-year life span of the fence, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

“There was a way where they could’ve monitored it,” Perez said. “You can visually monitor it and it would’ve been one-tenth of the cost. What they did was purely symbolic.”