Friendship Park’s #LetThemHug Campaign in San Diego-Tijuana
On most Saturdays and Sundays, people hike the 1.5 miles to arrive at Friendship Park, the southwestern most corner of the U.S. border with Mexico. From all over the United States and from throughout Mexico, Friendship Park is where families gather to see each other, albeit with the border fence between them. Visits on the U.S. side take place in the “enforcement zone,” an area walled-in by a parallel double border wall. In Mexico, visitors are in Playas de Tijuana, the northern end of Tijuana’s pier. The visitors greet each other at the primary fence. Its metal pylons are rusted from the salty sea breeze. Approaching the primary fence from a distance, you can make out the outline of people. From up close, you can see the eyes of your friends in Tijuana as they speak to you through the metal lattice. Squeezing one’s fingers through the rusted steel is the only physical contact that the overlooking Border Patrol agents permit.
For the past three years in April, a local group and the Border Patrol have organized a staged event where a handful of pre-selected and Border Patrol-vetted individuals embrace when the Border Patrol opens a door on the primary fence. Those families reunite for two minutes in an emotional event. The message is clear: Families belong together and a broken immigration system causes unspeakable trauma and harm. Unfortunately, the underlying narrative is that only vetted families, those with some form of lawful status, merit the opportunity to share a hug with people they care for. Families without documentation are left out. The event causes deep confusion and frustration. Throughout the year, people arriving at Friendship Park believe they will be able to hold their relatives only to be told that it is not possible.
The Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition of groups and individuals who have come together to improve access to Friendship Park, recently launched the #LetThemHug campaign to propose that the San Diego Border Patrol change its arbitrary policy. Prior to the enforcement buildup in 2008, visitors to Friendship Park could embrace family and friends with minimal restrictions. The coalition, whose members regularly visit Friendship Park, have proposed that the Border Patrol should consider that no major security threat occurred during that time. Expensive infrared cameras surveying the area 24-hours a day, and other security measures, prevent any major threat from occurring now.
The coalition believes hugging friends and family should be a regular part of life at Friendship Park, as it has been for generations. This is where grandparents meet their grandchildren for the first time, and where sons and daughters see their parents after decades of separation. Many travel thousands of miles believing they will be able to share a hug, only to be denied that opportunity.
To sign the petition in support of the #LetThemHug campaign, visit: http://www.friendshippark.org.
Pedro Rios is director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S./Mexico Border Program in San Diego, CA. The AFSC is a member of the Friends of Friendship Park coalition. Pedro can be reached at his Twitter account: @pedroconsafos