August 15, 2008

Friendship, Torn

By Mariana Martínez

The sea crashes on to the rocky beach, with the marbled sand black and white, looking like paradise with the sound of norteño music lingering in the background, but this view is violently interrupted by a metallic wall, penetrating the sea, salted water responding to the aggression by corroding the metal sheets.

Here, right under the light house, thousands of families have gathered for summer days, weekends and holidays, meeting to share, kiss, and hold hands, for over 30 years. Lone men coming from the US side to see their kids grow across the fence, while they cry in their mother’s hands because they want their dad. Adults visiting their elderly parents and lovers separated who promise to see each other again.


Activists speak on the U.S. side of the border fence during a vigil to protest approval to construct three miles of controversial border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo - David Maung.

“Coming here is the only way to keep going while being apart” said Juan, a restaurant worker in the process of becoming a permanent US resident. Juan comes to the border to visit his wife and kids, currently living at her parents’ house in Tijuana.

This is Friendship Park, the last place in San Diego County where families can see each other and meet across the border fence.

But, with the approval of the triple fence project, even this weak point of contact is about to disappear, furthering the distance between immigrant families, already split.

The park was established in 1971 by then first lady Patricia Nixon. Micaela Saucedo, activist and now director of the Refugio Elvira Shelter, remembers those times of her childhood, when she used to cross the hills to go to playas, to visit the park with her families.

Saucedo laments the U.S. government has a huge gap between actions and words.

“Racism is so clearly against Mexico, against us Mexicans, because if we were truly friends as the US government claims, they would not be building this wall, they would not destroy this park…where I used to play as a child…back then there was no fence, just chicken wire, there wasn’t even a road to Playas”.

For Saucedo, the racist intentions are clear, “Why would you want to destroy a place where families come and talk, if the husband gets deported, he can see his wife and kids, keep in contact, now they wont be able to talk…we are praying to God they run out of money so that little piece of land be spared, at least here, where families get together”.

Thousands still remember the 1990´s when runners used to cross the border with out any problems.

But since August first, -after a negative court ruling denying environmentalists claim against DHS-, immigrant activists have noticed the presence of bulldozers and construction workers with the Kiewit logo; the company was hired to finish the last three miles of the triple fence project, and it is expected that they start working fairly soon.

The details of the approved project are not known, due to the hermetic behavior of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, but it is estimated that Kiewit will be moving about 22 thousand cubic yards of land every day until the project is finished.

When completed, the fences will have created a “no-mans-land” at the border, making it impossible to have any contact.

The strongly anti-immigration congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has said the third border project has been accelerated because of the proximity of elections and the possibility of a Democratic president calling the project to a halt.

“If we had a Democrat for president it is very likely that the fence project would be stopped, so its only logic that we hurry up to finish it” said Hunter, who was one of the legislators who signed a waiver to allow DHS to continue with the project, despite it violating over 40 federal, state and local laws, as well as environmental provisions for the area.

Federal authorities have said the project has a cost of about $39 million dollars and they will spend an estimated $37 million dollars more, but critics say it might be double that just to finish the last stretch of the project.

American Friends Service Committee President, Christian Ramirez,-who was briefly arrested on the park by Border Patrol agents, when videotaping their work-, considers there has been harassment on the part of agents, against park visitors.

According to Ramirez, agents are asking visitors for their passport, something unusual for a state park, and agents have even stopped the entrance of collage students, participating in a guided tour of the border.

The Committee is launching a campaign to stop the construction of the wall or for the park area to be spared. For those interested in signing a letter to be sent to their representatives, visit http://support.afsc.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=6921.0&dlv_id=10261.

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