February 2, 2023
Over forty leading Californians have released an open letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to stop plans to erect enormous 30-foot walls across Friendship Park, the historic meeting place at the westernmost end of the US-Mexico border.
Signers of the letter include leading California philanthropists, among them Dr. Bob Ross, President/CEO of The California Endowment, Grant Oliphant, CEO of the Conrad Prebys Foundation (San Diego), Miguel Santana, President/CEO of the Weingart Foundation (Los Angeles), and Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation (San Francisco).
Also signing the letter are civic leaders including Malin Burnham, Jack McGrory and Tad Parzen of the Burnham Center for Community Advancement (San Diego), Manuel Pastor of the USC Equity Research Institute (Los Angeles) and Dr. Michael McAfee, President/CEO of the San Francisco-based PolicyLink.
Religious leaders from across the state, and representing a range of traditions, signed the letter, including Imam Taha Hasane of the Islamic Center of San Diego, and Bishops from the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
In their letter to President Biden, these and dozens of other signers describe Administration plans to forge ahead with the construction of 30-foot walls at Friendship Park “a travesty.”
Friendship Park, where the southern California City of San Diego and the Northern Baja California City of Tijuana meet, symbolizes binational friendship and provides a real platform for cross-border relationships. For generations, people of goodwill from across California have reunited with family and friends in Mexico at this location. DACA recipients, people here on limited visas, and many others rely on this park as the only means to see their loved ones within the parameters of the law. Friendship Park is also home to a Binational Garden and – when it is open — hosts a weekly religious gathering known as The Border Church, plus public events of many kinds throughout the year.
The open letter to President Biden comes in response to the January 17, 2023, announcement by US Border Patrol officials that within 30 days federal contractors would resume construction on 30-foot walls that had been designed, approved and funded during the Trump Administration. The decision to resume construction was signed off on by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, leaving President Biden as the last “court of appeal.”
The Biden Administration had frozen this project in August of last year to allow for a period of consultation with community stakeholders. During this process over 300 religious leaders, 200 educators and artists, almost 100 organizational leaders, 80 creative professionals and 60 medical professionals all submitted input to administration officials objecting to the construction of 30-foot walls. Every elected official with jurisdiction over Friendship Park also submitted letters to the Administration, echoing the sentiments expressed by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria: “To be clear, the City of San Diego does not and will not support any plan that would replace the existing border barriers at Friendship Park with a new 30- foot wall.”
Despite this overwhelming and consistent feedback, U.S. Border Patrol officials stuck to their plans to replace the existing barriers onsite at Friendship Park — one an 18-foot wall and the other an 18-foot fence that affords visibility into the public meeting space on the border — with two 30-foot bollard style walls, topped with anti-climb panels. Border Patrol officials claim to have “modified” their plans by reducing just one wall to 18 feet for a stretch spanning just 60 feet, amounting to just 2 percent of the overall construction project. Meanwhile, the wall exterior to the park would be raised entirely to 30-feet, obliterating views into the public space that is Friendship Park. The 30-foot walls would also eliminate views up the California coast from the Mexican side of Friendship Park, where the public plaza is joyously well-utilized by thousands of visitors each weekend. (See video illustrations below).
The release of this public letter is part of the ongoing campaign to “Save Friendship Park,” organized by the community coalition, The Friends of Friendship Park.