The administration of President Joe Biden agreed Thursday to temporarily suspend plans to erect a double border wall that critics say would for all practical purposes destroy a 51-year-old seaside park that symbolizes friendship between the United States and Mexico.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus said he wanted to hear community concerns before choosing a wall design for Friendship Park, which was opened by then-first lady Paty Nixon in 1971. For decades, visitors to the park could easily converse between San Diego and the Mexican city of Tijuana, but access from the United States has gradually declined over the past 15 years, and has been completely suspended for more than two years.
Magnus, a former Tucson, Arizona, police chief who took up his current job in December, ordered the temporary suspension a week after members of the Friends of Friendship Park activist coalition met with Border Patrol officials to request a 120-day pause in construction, which was scheduled to start soon.
“We have heard concerns about the project as it is currently planned, and it is important to me to be responsive to the local community on this matter,” said Magnus. “I look forward to continuing conversations with the community regarding this project during the hiatus.”
Magnus said the public would have access to the park at least two days a month, but did not elaborate.
The wall’s design has not been released, but Friends of Friendship Park said Border Patrol officials told the group last week that there would be two 30-foot (9.1-meter) high steel bollards with little space between them, similar to the hundreds of kilometers of wall that were erected during the presidency of Donald Trump. Currently a double wall in the Parque de la Amistad is lower in height or easier to see through.
The project would significantly affect views from Tijuana, Father John Fanestil of Friends of Friendship Park said at a news conference last week.
“We consider the current proposal to be a nail in the coffin for Parque de la Amistad,” he said.
On Thursday, Fanestil praised the pause in construction, calling it “a step in the right direction,” but Friends of Friendship Park said opening the park twice a month — the minimum CBP promised — would be inadequate for a binational garden of native plants, cross-border religious services and other community events.
The National Border Patrol Council, a union that represents agents, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Biden suspended construction of border walls, one of Trump’s top domestic priorities, immediately after taking office, but has allowed work in very limited circumstances. Last week, the administration said it would fill four loopholes in an unfinished stretch of Trump-era Yuma, Arizona, which has become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings.
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