By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday agreed to pause plans for a double border wall that critics say would effectively destroy a 51-year-old oceanfront park that symbolizes the friendship between the United States and Mexico.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus said he wanted to hear community concerns before settling on a wall design for Friendship Park, which then-first lady Pat Nixon inaugurated in 1971. For decades, park visitors could easily converse between San Diego and Tijuana but access gradually diminished from the U.S. over the last 15 years and stopped entirely for more than two years.
Magnus, a former police chief of Tucson, Arizona, who took office December, ordered the pause a week after Friends of Friendship Park met with Border Patrol officials to ask for a 120-day halt to construction, which was expected to begin shortly.
“We have heard concerns about the project as currently planned, and it is important to me to be responsive to the local community on this issue,” Magnus said. “I look forward to continued conversations with the community regarding this project during the pause.”
Magnus said the public would have access to the park at least two days a month but offered no other details.
Its design has not been made public but Friends of Friendship Park said Border Patrol officials told the group last week that there would be two 30-foot-high tightly spaced steel bollards, like much of the hundreds of miles of wall that were erected during Donald Trump’s presidency. Currently a double wall in Friendship Park is shorter or easier to see through.
Views from Tijuana would be severely diminished, the Rev. John Fanestil of Friends of Friendship Park said at a news conference last week.
“We view the current proposal as a nail in the coffin of Friendship Park,” he said.
On Thursday, Fanestil applauded the construction pause as “a step in the right direction,” but Friends of Friendship Park said opening the park two days a month —the minimum that CBP pledged— would be inadequate for a binational garden of native plants, cross-border religious services, and other community events.
The National Border Patrol Council, a union that represents agents, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
President Joe Biden halted construction on border walls, one of Trump’s highest domestic priorities, immediately upon taking office, but has allowed work in very limited circumstances. Last week, the administration said it was filling four gaps of an incomplete Trump-era wall in Yuma, Arizona, which has become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings.