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U.S. side of a binational garden at Mexico border bulldozed

Binational garden is razed
A bulldozer at the binational garden at the San Diego border with Tijuana on Jan. 8, 2020.
(Cortesía)

Authorities say area’s security was compromised; criminals were exploiting cover

The U.S. side of a binational garden that was planted more than 10 years ago on the border between Tijuana and San Diego was bulldozed this week by federal authorities, activists said.

The so-called Binational Friendship Garden, which covers territory in both countries, was planted in March 2007 as a place to “bring people with the common interest of promoting native flora in order to make friends across the border fence,” said its founder, Daniel Watman.

It is located inside the binational Friendship Park, where every weekend families who have been separated by immigration laws can reunite on both sides of the fence.

In 2008, U.S. authorities removed the garden because of the construction of a secondary border fence, but in 2009 they allowed it to be planted again, Watman said. Since then the garden has been growing on the site with permission from the U.S. Border Patrol.

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Watman learned of what happened Wednesday when a security guard sent him pictures showing a bulldozer removing plants on the U.S. side of the garden.

“I’m a little shocked,” said Watman, a member of the Friends of Friendship Park Committee. “They did not warn us ... it’s pretty sad.”

The garden was being maintained by about 10 volunteers, and it was estimated that there were about 200 native plants on both sides of the border.

Courtesy photo showing the U.S. side of the binational garden in summer 2019
Courtesy photo showing the US side of the binational garden in summer 2019.
(Cortesía)

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Image of the American side of the binational garden on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020
Image of the American side of the binational garden on Wednesday, January 8, 2020.
(Alexandra Mendoza/U-T en Español)

San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison of the Border Patrol said that the decision was in response to smugglers exploiting the area.

“The primary international border fence adjacent to the binational garden was compromised, secretly modified, and the garden was being used as cover to hide smuggling activities,” Harrison said in a statement.

“The Imperial Beach Station [Border Patrol] took measures to eliminate that vulnerability,” he said.

Harrison said the agency will try find a manageable solution with the Friends of Friendship Park while maintaining security: “The Border Patrol in San Diego Sector is committed to working with FoFP on the next chapter of the binational garden.”

The Mexican portion of the garden was not altered.

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Luis Carranza, the security guard who witnessed the incident Wednesday morning, felt sorry for what happened.

“They tore everything out. I thought it was wrong, they shouldn’t take away gardens, on the contrary, we should restore them,” said Carranza, who has been working in the area for four years.

Photo taken from the Mexican side of the binational garden at San Diego-Tijuana border.
Photo taken from the Mexican side of the binational garden in Friendship Park at the San Diego-Tijuana border.
(Alexandra Mendoza / San Diego Union-Tribune )

Watman said that there was no indication that U.S. authorities wanted to remove the garden completely. Recently, they received a letter outlining new rules for both visits and maintenance of the binational garden, he said.

He added that the group did not detect any alterations in the border fence.

Despite what happened, Watman said he hopes the group will be allowed to replant the garden.

Mendoza writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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