Border Patrol to Close Half-Acre Plaza for New Fence in California

Thu January 22, 2009 - West Edition
Elliot Spagat - Associated Press




IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. (AP) A half-acre plaza that has stood for the goodwill between Mexico and the United States is closing to make way for a triple fence along the U.S. southern border, the California State Parks Department confirmed Jan. 8.

A chain-link fence already divides Friendship Park, which separates Imperial Beach from Tijuana, Mexico. But the Border Patrol told local authorities at a meeting that the plaza in Border Field State Park would be closed to the public for the construction of a larger fence structure, said Clay Phillips, superintendent of Border Field.

“Their No. 1 mission is to secure the border, and that’s the basis on which they’re closing this portion permanently,” said Phillips.

Friendship Park, which was dedicated by first lady Patricia Nixon in the 1970s as a symbol of binational goodwill, is a federal enclave accessible to pedestrians and motorists only by going through the 800-acre Border Field park. It is paved with cement on both sides of the fence, overlooks the Pacific Ocean and has an obelisk that was planted shortly after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848.

From the Mexican side, visitors saw that crews had already torn up cement and some trees were gone.

The agency plans to build a dirt road between the new fences, said Jonathan Hardy, who attended the meeting Jan. 6 as an aide to Democratic state Sen. Denise Ducheny of San Diego.

“It’s very saddening and very disappointing,” Ducheny said. “Once you scar that landscape, it’s very hard to undo.”

The decision is a setback for state and local officials who argued to spare the plaza from a 3.5-mi. (5.6 km) stretch of fencing that the federal government is building to the Pacific Ocean. The Bush administration had pledged to erect nearly 700 mi. (1,120 km) of fencing and barriers along the 1,952-mi. (3,140 km) U.S.-Mexico border.

Efforts to confirm the closure from Border Patrol officials have been unsuccessful.

U.S. Reps. Susan Davis and Bob Filner, both San Diego Democrats, along with Ducheny and other officials had urged President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team in November to keep the plaza open, calling it “a place of great historic and cultural significance to the people of the U.S.-Mexico border region.”