Family members have gathered for years at Friendship Park to share quiet conversations and “pinky kisses” through metal mesh fencing that separates San Diego and Tijuana. A new Border Patrol policy now limits those visits to 30 minutes.
Under the new policy, a spokesman for the agency’s San Diego sector confirmed, no more than 10 people can be in the area, which sits between two border enforcement fences, at the same time.
Photos and videos in the space are prohibited, and the public is no longer allowed in the binational garden.
The park, at the edge of Border Field State Park, in the southwestern corner of San Diego, is open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That has not changed under the new policy.
The area the Border Patrol calls Friendship Circle is within the agency’s “enforcement zone,” a spokesman said. “The U.S. Border Patrol is committed to ensuring the safety and security of those who visit Friendship Circle.”
Jannet Fernandez, 39, goes with her family to the park several times a month to see her parents and siblings who live in Tijuana. She usually arrives by 10 a.m. and stays until the park closes.
“My mom tells me all the time, ‘I miss you so much, and I wish you’d be here with me and drink coffee or eat and talk,’” Fernandez said. “Sometimes she’ll cry, but I say, ‘Mom, don’t cry. One day I’m going to be with you, and we’re going to drink coffee and do everything.’”
Fernandez says going to the park is the only way she can see her mother in person.
Fernandez found out about the new rules when she arrived at the park for a weekend visit with her family.
“I don’t like it at all,” she said. “They’re treating us like we’re bad people, bad families that are going to do something. All we want to do is see our family.”
Though Fernandez lives locally, other families come from Los Angeles or Las Vegas to visit loved ones at Friendship Park, she said, and she feels sad that they don’t get to spend more time at the fence.
The decision angered local immigrant advocate Enrique Morones, head of Border Angels, who frequently organizes activities at the park, and it has escalated tension between Morones and Rodney Scott, the new chief of the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector.
“Now, without notice, your team dramatically reduces space at Friendship Park, reduces visiting time to 30 minutes instead of four hours, reduces size of people in park from 25 to 10, no longer allows families or others to take treasured pictures of loved ones, all in the name of national security? Shame!” Morones wrote in a recent email to Scott. “The whole world is watching in horror as this great country has abandoned its moral high ground and justifies nativism, exclusion and honest discourse. All of us want secure borders, but telling families they can no longer hug and reducing their space and allotted time is immoral and a violation of human rights.”
“Very disappointing,” Scott responded, saying that they would discuss the issue at a meeting Wednesday.
“The United States Border Patrol San Diego sector maintains long-standing relationships of cooperation and partnership with the Border Angels, Friends of Friendship Park and many other civic institutions,” Scott told the Union-Tribune when asked to clarify what he found disappointing. “My professional relationships, and even personal friendships with some of the individuals that make up these groups date back several years. Professionally, we may not agree on every issue, but the trust and friendships that have been established have historically allowed us to engage in respectful discourse.”
Morones and Scott have been at odds since the Border Patrol announced it would no longer periodically open a door in the fence to allow family members to hug in highly publicized events organized by Morones.
At a door opening in November, a surprise wedding ceremony between a Mexican woman and a U.S. man who turned out to have a drug-smuggling conviction placed the events under scrutiny and called into question the thoroughness of the Border Patrol’s background checks of participants.
Though Scott announced shortly after the wedding drama unfolded that the door would remain closed, he did not cite it as the reason for the change.
Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.