The following release was issued by the San Diego-based Foundation for Change. Every Sunday since last summer, John Fanestil, the Foundation's Executive Director, has been offering communion to people on both sides of the wall at Friendship Park. To learn more about the Foundation for Change, visit their website here.
SAN DIEGO, CA – On Saturday, February 21, United States Border Patrol (USBP) agents forcibly denied U.S. citizens access to Friendship Park, an historic plaza overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced their intent to impose a permanent ban on all public access to the historic location.
At noon on Saturday a group of 150 park patrons – local church choir members, university students, human rights advocates and environmentalists – gathered at Friendship Park to hold a peaceful, ecumenical service and concert. They were joined by friends from Tijuana, including members of the Tijuana Opera, who were waiting to participate on the other side of the fence. Upon their arrival, Border Patrol agents with rubber-bullet guns and tear-gas canisters at the ready forcibly pushed the group back and threatened to arrest any who would approach the fence.
The group then performed the Faure Requiem Mass in harmony with the Mexican singers and musicians. Rev. John Fanestil – a United Methodist Pastor and Executive Director of the San Diego-based Foundation for Change – then celebrated communion with a crowd of over 150 on the U.S. side of the border. When he attempted to distribute the communion elements to the crowd in Tijuana, Fanestil’s movements were blocked by a Border Patrol agent and he was told that one more step forward would result in his being charged with assault. Fanestil, communion elements in hand, was then told to turn around and place his hands behind his back. He was then forcibly removed from the area and later released without charge.
Also detained at Saturday’s event was Daniel Watman, organizer of the community-based organization Border Meetup. For years Watman’s group has hosted social events at Friendship Park, ranging from yoga classes and salsa dancing lessons to beach clean-ups in coalition with environmental organizations from San Diego and Tijuana like San Diego Coastkeeper and Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación del Medio Ambiente. As part of Saturday’s program, Watman and other participants had intended to join with counterparts from Grupo Ecologista de Tijuana in restoring Friendship Park’s bi-national garden, which has been uprooted on the U.S.
side by Border Patrol.
"Saturday, we followed in the footsteps of thousands over the decades who have visited Friendship Park for its intended purpose, international friendship," said the Rev. Fanestil. "Now, U.S. citizens are being walled off from a part of their own country and the building of friendships with our Mexican neighbors is being criminalized."
Dedicated on August 18, 1971, by First Lady Pat Nixon, Friendship Park is an historic, binational plaza that encircles a marble monument marking the initial boundary point separating the U.S. and Mexico since 1848. The plaza is within California’s Border Field State Park and a part of a larger ecological habitat, the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. After planting a tree to inaugurate the plaza in 1971, Mrs. Nixon ordered her security guards to cut the barbed wire separating her from a cheering crowd in Mexico and stated, "I hate to see a fence anywhere."
On December 23, 2008, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) declared Friendship Park a construction zone and announced a ban on all public access. On January 6, 2009 CBP released final design plans for the park and revealed their plans to prohibit permanently all public access to this unique site.
DHS plans for Friendship Park are part of a larger project which saw the Bush Administration waive dozens of environmental laws and regulations in order to facilitate the accelerated construction of double and triple barriers along the length of the 1850-mile U.S.-Mexico border. To date, over 600 miles of supplemental border wall have been completed, in some locations as far as two miles north of the first fence marking the international boundary. DHS officials have made known their desire to claim the lands along the border as a “zone of enforcement,” in effect creating a “no man’s land” that cuts across private property, public lands, national parks, sensitive wildlife refuges, sacred lands and historic cultural sites.
The San Diego-based coalition, “Friends of Friendship Park, includes over 30 community organizations dedicated to preserving the park. Local efforts have been supported by legislators ranging from Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi to San Diego City Council members. On February 4, members of Congress Susan Davis and Bob Filner, along with State Senators Christine Kehoe and Denise Ducheny, and State Assemblymembers Mary Salas and Lori Saldaña, sent a joint letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to halt to construction at the site pending further review.
The effort to save Friendship Park is a part of a larger movement being led by citizens and legislators from Brownsville, Texas, through New Mexico and Arizona to San Diego, California advocating a moratorium on border wall construction, pending further review. On February 10, eight members of Congress from border districts sent a letter to President Obama requesting a halt to construction on the border.
"In an era of advanced technologies, the border fence is an antiquated structure that has torn our communities apart and damaged our cross-border relationships,” the legislators wrote.