(The Center Square) – As California Border Patrol agents grapple with record apprehensions of illegal foreign nationals and drug seizures, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it was replacing part of the border wall in San Diego – and in one section lowering it from 30 feet high to 18 feet.
CBP announced this week it had lifted its suspension on replacing a deteriorated border barrier at the Friendship Circle Project, including a “dilapidated primary and secondary border barrier along the border in San Diego.” The border barrier it’s referring to is a 30-foot double wall, which it paused working on last August “to conduct additional stakeholder outreach” and “engage with the community.”
“After analyzing the feedback it received, along with reviewing the operational conditions of U.S. Border Patrol in this immediate area,” CBP said its proposed construction “meets the border security needs of the area while also addressing feedback from the community.” It also said it was “committed to providing visitors on the U.S. side of the border with access to Friendship Park.”
The area that includes Friendship Park on U.S. land was dedicated by former first lady Pat Nixon in 1971 as California’s Border Field State Park. It’s “marred by a system of double walls erected by the Department of Homeland Security,” the nonprofit organization, Friends of Friendship Park, argues, and says since 2008, “San Diego Border Patrol officials have severely restricted public access” to the park on U.S. soil. “In February 2020 they completely closed the Park to the public in the United States,” the group said.
When the wall is completed, Border Patrol agents will control access to the park through a gate in the secondary barrier, CBP said, during designated periods of time. In 2011, BP officials opened the U.S. side of the park for limited hours every weekend. CBP didn’t say if it was implementing a similar plan but said it would “allow visitors on the U.S. side of the border to communicate with friends and family located in Mexico on the other side of the primary barrier like in years past.”
Wall construction is expected to take six months.
CBP made the announcement after President Joe Biden pledged in January 2021 to not build “another foot” of the border wall. On his first day in office, he halted all border wall construction along the southern border.
He also returned $2.2 billion in border wall funds to the Department of Defense, which was reallocated to fund 66 projects in 16 countries, three U.S. territories, and 11 states. According to a DOD memo, the majority of the funds, $1.26 billion, was allocated to secure the borders of other countries like Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and others.
While in Mexico earlier this month, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador thanked Biden for building “not even one meter of border wall” during his presidency. But the Biden administration began closing border wall gaps in Yuma, Arizona, last summer.
Both Arizona and California have reported record numbers of apprehensions and gotaways, over 800,000 and over 300,000, respectively. They’ve also seized unprecedented levels of fentanyl. In one single traffic stop last year, CBP agents in San Diego confiscated enough fentanyl to kill over 23 million people.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Randy Grossman has expressed alarm about San Diego becoming “the epicenter of fentanyl trafficking into the United States.” Over 60% of fentanyl that’s been seized nationwide has been seized in San Diego and Imperial counties, he warned last year.
On Friday, Friends of Friendship Park said it “reject[s] and condemns[s] the most recent proposal to erect 30-foot walls at Friendship Park. The plans announced by officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection are antithetical to the Park’s original purpose to celebrate cross border friendship. This proposal will create the worst design Friendship Park has ever seen. It will be a step backward, rather than forward.”
It also vowed to fight the construction and planned a protest for Sunday.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, it said CBP’s plan to “erect two 30-foot walls across over 95% of the remaining 0.3 miles of border,” including dropping one part to 18-feet high near the center of the park, was “a token and inadequate gesture.”
It said the plan would “desecrate the binational character of the park,” “undermine cross border connection and friendship between the peoples of the United States and Mexico,” and destroy a native plant garden, among other things.
CBP’s announcement came after the San Diego BP Sector announced its agents had seized over 60 firearms last year, an increase of nearly 50% from 2021.
“We have seen an increase in armed encounters,” San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke said. “We never know who we’ll encounter as we patrol the border,” he added. “Our agents are the first line of defense against smugglers who have become more aggressive and brazen in their attempts to bring people and narcotics into our country.”