In 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American War, we set a monument in the ground establishing the new southwestern boundary of the United States. In 1971, Patricia Nixon would stand in that spot on the beach just north of Tijuana and call it Friendship Park. People from the U.S. and from Mexico had been meeting in that spot for many years, she just gave it a name.
In recent years, as our border with Mexico has seen increased enforcement, Friendship Park became one of the only places that people from both countries could easily meet face to face. The park is no more, ripped up by bulldozers last week. It is one of the many projects, particularly in the San Diego sector, that the Bush administration is rushing to completion in the waning moments of his presidency. The end result of this project will be a triple fence with a continuous all-weather road running from Friendship Park to the Otay Mesa port of entry. The new roads will allow Border Patrol vehicles high speed access to all points along this section.
The terrain has been historically difficult for Border Patrol to operate in, and it has provided good cover for those trying to sneak their way into the U.S.. It is becoming less problematic, however, as they are finishing several major earth moving projects to smooth the once dramatic topography.
The most stunning example of this landscape alteration is in Smugglers Gulch. In just a few months, a private contractor has essentially filled in the gulch with millions of cubic yards of dirt. The project has planned for some time. Now instead of doing a series of hairpin turns descending over 300 feet to the bottom of the gulch, and again on the way up, Border Patrol can just speed right across the half mile distance from mesa to mesa.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
With any luck, these two glaring reminders of our ever more militarized border are just the last few projects rushed to completion by an outgoing administration. There are reasons to be hopeful about the transition of power occurring now in Washington. There are signals that the strategy on the border will rely on personnel and technology rather than physical barriers. That Obama appointed a vocal skeptic of the border fence to direct the Department of Homeland Security signals this shift in focus, but much harm has been done. The park is as symbolic as its demolition, a visual reminder of the tenuous relationship between the two countries, a stain which is becoming more difficult to wash off.