SAN DIEGO – The Biden administration agreed to lower part of a border wall planned in the southwest corner of the continental United States, advocates said Thursday, dismissing the concession as a token gesture.
Opposition prompted a construction pause in August at Friendship Park, which was inaugurated in 1971 by then-first lady Pat Nixon as a symbol of ties between the U.S. and Mexico. For decades, visitors to the oceanfront park between San Diego and Tijuana could easily converse and touch, but access gradually diminished from the U.S. over the last 15 years.
After public feedback, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agreed to lower a double wall for 60 feet (18.3 meters), about the length of a tractor-trailer, said the Rev. John Fanestil of Friends of Friendship Park. In that section, the height will dip to 18 feet (5.5 meters) from 30 feet (9.1 meters).
CBP didn't respond to questions about the revised design. But it said in a news release Tuesday that it “developed an approach that meets the border security needs of the area while also addressing feedback from the community.” It expects construction to resume early this year and take about six months to complete.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas approved the changes, Fanestil said he was told by CBP officials.
Chris Magnus, who was ousted as CBP commissioner in November after less than a year on the job, paused work on the Trump-era contract, saying he wanted to first understand community concerns.
The decision comes a week after Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador thanked President Joe Biden for building “not even one meter of border wall,” which is not entirely true. While Trump built hundreds of miles, Biden has pursued small projects in Texas' Rio Grande Valley; Yuma, Arizona; and San Diego.
The San Diego project involves 0.3 mile of double-layer wall that currently rises 18 feet, Fanestil said. Aside from its height, it will be made of tightly spaced steel bollards, which are more difficult to see through than current material.
“The proposal to ‘dip’ the primary border wall to 18 feet for a small stretch near the center of Friendship Park is a token and inadequate gesture,” Friends of Friendship Park said in a statement.
CBP agreed leave unchanged a policy to open the outer gate from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for up to 25 people at a time to converse with people on the Mexican side through a barrier of steel mesh.