Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friendship Park just got friendlier

Well, not exactly.

The Border Patrol has built a "public access area" allowing entrance to a portion of the no man's land that runs against the border fence at Friendship Park, the bi-national hang out spot that stands against the border in Border Field State Park. 

But activists are lamenting the fact that the new public zone blocks off human access to people on the other side of the fence. Visitors need a government-issued I.D. to enter (effectively keeping out undocumented immigrants), limits occupancy to 25, and bars "physical contact with individuals in Mexico." 

"Friendship Park is a place characterized at its root by human contact, human touch," John Fanestil, a member of a local coalition called the Friends of Friendship Park (of which my mom is a member), told me over e-mail. "Friends don't greet friends from a distance of six feet across two fences." 

In years past, people in the United States used to meet people in Mexico at the park to hang out, talk, and even hand tacos between the fence. But in January, the Department of Homeland Security blocked off public access to the fence, creating the 150-foot wide no man's land as part of an effort to construct 700 miles of triple-tiered barriers stretching the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The Friends of Friendship Park have been lobbying for months to restore public access to the border fence, meeting with the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. All the while, they've sought to remain connected to their friends across the border in creative ways--for instance, via long-distance conversations in sign language. [I gave a Border Patrol agent some questions about the new site, but he hasn't returned my calls.]

With the new zone, the Friends will no doubt find new ways to keep in contact with their pals across the border. 

On Monday, the Friends are going to hold a candlelight vigil at noon to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Directions: Take Hwy 5 South, exit Dairy Mart Rd, turn right (west) and follow the winding road to the entrance of Border Field State Park. You will be allowed to drive in to reach Friendship Park. 

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