SAN FRANCISCO - Community groups are concerned about the Department of Homeland Security's plans to build a giant fence down the middle of a park that marks the westernmost border between the United States and Mexico."This is an area where families with members on both sides of the border can get together on the beach and have a picnic, or bring a new born baby to show to a relative on the other side," said John Fanestil, executive director of San Diego Foundation for Change. "All that will be lost if this new fence is built."
The area, officially known as Border Field State Park, is called Friendship Park by most locals. It spans the southernmost part of San Diego, in the United States, and the northernmost part of Tijuana, in Mexico.
Border Field State Park was first bisected by a fence in 1994 as part of "Operation Gatekeeper," a Clinton administration effort to reinforce border controls. The fence installed at that time is a simple chain link fence that visitors can see through as they socialize with friends and family on the other side.
The new fence, currently under construction, is mandated under the Secure Fence Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006. It is expected to be much more imposing.
Representatives of the Department of Homeland Security did not return phone calls and e-mails by deadline, and a spokesperson for California State Parks system told OneWorld she had "no idea" about the new fence's design or route. But observers say there's little doubt what form the new barrier will take.
"If it's like the fencing put up elsewhere along the border near San Diego, there will be two fences made with triple strength concertina wire," explained David Danelo, a former Marine Corps Captain and author of the new book The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexico Divide. "There will be one fence, 150-meter dead zone that's big enough for a vehicle to drive, and then the second fence."
The system, Danelo said, is called Sandia fencing, because it was developed at the Energy Department's Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico. According to the organization Taxpayers for Common Sense, Sandia fencing costs $800,000 per mile to install and $7,000 a year to maintain.
Danelo thinks that, despite this expenditure, a Sandia fence would have little to no impact on Mexicans and other Latin Americans who want to migrate to the United States.
"Ninety percent of illegal migrants on that part of the border come through a legal port of entry either smuggled in a vehicle, crated in tractor trailers, or they come legally and overstay their visa," Danelo said. "The logic [of building the fence] makes very little sense."
Danelo argues that the Department of Homeland Security should consider more geographically appropriate methods of controlling the westernmost section of the U.S.-Mexico border. Along other parts of the border, he notes, a massive new fence has been deemed inappropriate.
In Brownsville, Texas, for example, the old fence was bolstered because construction of a larger Sandia Fence would have bisected the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville and put the university golf course on the Mexican side of the fence.
In the meantime, community groups in San Diego say they've already noticed a change in the behavior of federal agents at Border Field State Park. According to Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee, the Border Patrol has installed a checkpoint at the park's exit where every visitor is asked to show papers.
Ramirez said this is already sending a "chill" through the community and driving down visits to the park. Those who do go, he said, often bring their passports.
Ramirez himself was detained for six hours last week while observing the Border Patrol's activities at the park. In a video, which Ramirez has posted on YouTube, Ramirez appears to be standing quietly filming the Border Patrol's detention of park visitors when he is pushed down and cuffed by the Border Patrol.
"I was detained for visiting a park where North meets South and the Pacific crashes against the land, a park that I have visited all of my life," Ramirez said. "I was detained for bearing witness to the ongoing destruction of that park, for a triple fence will bypass the last place where families can still come together and see each other through the wall of death that separates our families and communities.
"In my mind and the mind of many here in the San Diego-Tijuana border region, a high wall or other barriers will never take our friendship away," he added, "and most certainly not our dignity."
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