Democrats call out Biden administration, condemn border wall being built in Friendship Park

Rep. Juan Vargas at a news conference next to a border fence.
Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) joined other community members, civic and elected leaders on Friday in demanding the immediate end to construction of two 30-foot-tall walls at the Friendship Park area between Tijuana and San Diego.
(Carlos Moreno / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Shameful. Embarrassing. A potentially impeachable offense.

The trio of San Diego politicians speaking next to the border wall in San Ysidro on Friday used those words to characterize the decision by fellow Democrats in the federal government to build 30-foot border walls in the area around Friendship Park. With their sharply critical comments, Rep. Juan Vargas, state Sen. Steve Padilla and Assemblyman David Alvarez added their voices to the chorus of activists who are fighting for public access to the strip of land that became a symbol of binational unity more than 50 years ago.

“We don’t need this wall,” Vargas (D-San Diego) said. “This wall does nothing.”

There are currently two layers of 18-foot border barrier that enclose Friendship Park, with Border Patrol controlling the gates to the historic meeting place for families who can’t cross to see each other. Those gates have been closed for several years.

The new construction plans, initiated by the Trump administration and continued under President Biden, did not originally include gates. But activism spurred by the collective Friends of Friendship Park last summer caused Customs and Border Protection to pause the project for stakeholder meetings over the design.


While CBP has maintained that the walls are necessary because the old ones are deteriorating, it decided to keep the layer of fence closer to Mexico at the current height for a short stretch near the park. The secondary layer of fence will still increase to 30 feet tall.

Since construction restarted, Friends of Friendship Park has continued to call out the administration, saying that the modifications are not enough to preserve the essence and intended message of the park.

People hold signs reading "Biden: Do Better Than Trump, Don't Finish His Wall!" and others.
Community members hold signs protesting the border construction during the news conference Friday.
(Carlos Moreno / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Department of Homeland Security and CBP did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Vargas said that the previous CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus had been willing to negotiate about the fate of the park. Magnus was forced to resign from the administration in November.

“He agreed to work with us, and then they fired him,” Vargas said. “They literally fired him.”


New acting Commissioner Troy Miller hasn’t been willing to listen, he said.

Vargas noted that Republicans have been talking of impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of migration at the border. He said that he, too, would consider voting for that impeachment because of the border wall construction at Friendship Park.

“He told us he would help us, and he hasn’t done it,” Vargas said. “He betrayed us.”

Padilla said he was disappointed in the lack of initiative from the administration.

A sign on a fencepost reads "Please open Friendship Park!"
Friendship Park sits between two layers of border fence at Border Field State Park.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

“This is an incredibly sad missed opportunity,” Padilla said. “This is not si se puede. This is no we can’t, and we’re not even going to try.”

Alvarez called it a mistake by the federal government.

“We want accountability,” he said. “We want to send a message that this has to go down differently.”

Joining the politicians were Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, a statewide health foundation,; Bishop Minerva Carcaño, board chair of the California Endowment; and Grant Oliphant, CEO of the Conrad Prebys Foundation.

Ross likened the construction to the Berlin Wall, calling it a travesty.

“We don’t have to annihilate friendship for security,” Ross said.

People hold protest signs near a border wall.
Leaders line up for the news conference to condemn the construction of new barrier at Friendship Park on Friday.
(Carlos Moreno / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Carcaño said the California Endowment is calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to take a leadership position in the fight to save the park.

Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Carcaño also had a message for Biden: “Keep your promise — no more border walls.”