MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand. Follow the U.S.-Mexico border all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and there you'll find bulldozers filling in dirt between a massive triple fence. The barrier has destroyed what once was a popular meeting spot for friends and families from both sides of the border. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.
(Soundbite of construction site)
JASON BEAUBIEN: Massive yellow bulldozers, backhoes and earthmovers are tearing up what use to be Friendship Park. The park is just a stone's throw from the beach. The Mexican side is next to a bullring and a series of small restaurants selling seafood and cold drinks. On a recent weekday afternoon, Delfino Rodriguez was standing in Tijuana next to the 15-foot-high border fence, watching the heavy equipment push around huge piles of earth.
Mr. DELFINO RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish and English spoken) It was a very nice green park, Friendship Park, Parque de Amistad, and it's gone.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BEAUBIEN: Rodriguez says especially on the weekends, people who were unable to cross the border would gather here to chat. Families would set up beach chairs on both sides of the fence. Lovers would clasp fingers through the mesh, but Rodriguez says all that stopped now.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: For example, I was here two weekends ago, and a Mexican woman really was crying because she brought lunch from San Quintin; San Quintin is in the south of Baja, California. And she traveled by herself by car to share a lunch with her husband, but her husband couldn't show up here. He wasn't allowed.
BEAUBIEN: The Department of Homeland Security is shutting down this meeting spot as part of a huge project to install more than 600 miles of fencing along the southern border with Mexico. Here federal contractors are putting in triple fencing along the final three and a half miles of the boundary between San Diego and Tijuana. They're filling canyons with dirt and bulldozing land along the border to put in a high-speed access road. Mike Fisher, the head of the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego, says the decision to shut down all access to the fence at Friendship Park was a difficult one. But Fisher says it was necessary because smugglers were using the large crowds as cover for illegal activity.
Mr. MIKE FISHER (Chief Patrol Officer, San Diego Sector, U.S. Border Patrol): There is document of sales, fraudulent documents sales, that go and pass through the fence. There is narcotic smuggling that happens. We've had cases where they would have parties on both sides of the border, and they would throw soccer balls from one side to the other, and the soccer balls would contain narcotics.
BEAUBIEN: Friendship Park was dedicated in 1971 by then-first lady Patricia Nixon to celebrate the bonds between Mexico and the United States. In addition to being a meeting point for family and friends, in recent years, ad hoc cultural events used to happen here. There were cross-border concerts, Christmas celebrations and English-Spanish language classes through the fence. And California being California, this may have been one of the few places in the world to have hosted international yoga classes with half the class in one country and half the class in another. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: First lady Pat Nixon was named Thelma, not Patricia.]
Minister JOHN FANESTIL (United Methodist Preacher): (Spanish spoken) Thank you, God, for this holy mystery which you give yourself to us.
BEAUBIEN: Since last summer, United Methodist preacher John Fanestil has been holding a weekly Mass at the park. Competing with the drone of Border Patrol helicopters, ice-cream vendors and music from the cantinas on the Tijuana beachfront, Fanestil offers Communion through the fence. On this Sunday, Fanestil and a couple dozen other people have stepped over a rather flimsy, plastic construction barrier to hold this Mass at the border. Fanestil says he plans to continue the service as long as possible as an act of civil disobedience.
Minister FANESTIL: The idea that they simply couldn't control illegal behavior, that they couldn't prohibit or prevent undocumented crossings, without building this massive wall, I think is, on the face of it, absurd.
BEAUBIEN: He says a one-size-fits-all federal policy is wiping out a unique spot on the southern border. On a recent weekday afternoon, the clash between U.S. policy and Mexico's twisted love affair with its northern neighbor played out on this mesa by the Pacific.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Men: (Singing in Spanish) Voy a cruzar la frontera / Y estoy arriba del...
BEAUBIEN: On the San Diego side of the fence, construction crews were leveling the ground to put in a stronger barrier, while on the Tijuana side, three weathered old men in cowboy hats sang a song about crossing it.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Men: (Singing in Spanish) Voy a cruzar la frontera. Voy a buscar la lora...
(Soundbite of applause)
Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken) Que bonita, que bonita.
BEAUBIEN: Jason Beaubien, NPR News.