Saturday, October 6, 2012

Border Patrol promises consistent access to Friendship Park

San Diego Untion Tribune
October 6, 2012
by Jordan England-Nelson

— The Border Patrol on Saturday made a new commitment to providing consistent access to Friendship Park, a concrete plaza split by the U.S.-Mexico border fence where friends and families on either side have gathered for generations.
Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition that has pushed for greater access and more regular hours of operation at the site, praised the new arrangement.
Access had been intermittent since 2009, when ground was broken for a secondary fence extending from Smuggler’s Gulch to the sea, said the Rev. John Fanestil, a Methodist pastor and a spokesman for the coalition. He said Border Patrol agents were not consistently on call to let visitors inside, leading to an “atmosphere of uncertainty” which meant that “for all intents and purposes, the park was not accessible in any meaningful way.”
Border Patrol spokesman Jerry Conlin said the park was never officially closed, but that “enforcement takes priority” and agents were not always available to let people in. Rotating staff will now be available Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Some groups have objected to Friendship Park because they see it as a way for undocumented immigrants to visit their families without having to return to Mexico. Others object to what the park has come to represent.
Peter Nunez, chairman of the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that calls for less immigration, said he has nothing against families coming together at the site. But he criticized the way immigrant advocates have exploited the park.
“The fence symbolizes in their minds the absurdity of immigration law,” Nunez said. “But the park was never meant to symbolize anything about immigration. It’s about friendship between two neighboring countries.”
Friendship Park came about after First Lady Pat Nixon’s 1971 inauguration of Border Field State Park, where she told crowds on either side of the barbed-wire demarcation line: “I hate to see a fence anywhere.”
Fanestil has been visiting Friendship Park for years to administer Sunday Communion. He used to pass wafers through chinks in the fence and into the mouths of congregants on the other side, resulting in a distinct display of transnational transubstantiation.
Steel mesh was added to the primary fence earlier this year to prevent people from passing objects from one side to the other.
Fanestil, who plans on resuming border sacraments today, said he is looking for ways to continue his two-nations-under-God take on the holy rites. He is reaching out to a Mexican minister interested in simultaneously performing the service on the Mexican side of the fence. They even want to use the same loaf of bread, splitting it beforehand and taking one half to each side.
“Newcomers say it [the mesh] reminds them of visiting someone in jail,” Fanestil said. “But you can still strike up a conversation and make friends. That’s why the park is named that way.”

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