Border Patrol allows replanting after bulldozing garden

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Border Patrol, reacting to a breach it discovered in a steel-pole border wall believed to be used by smugglers, gave activists no warning this month when it bulldozed the United States (US) side of a cross-border garden on an iconic bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

On Saturday, after a public apology for “the unintentional destruction”, the agency allowed the activists in a highly restricted area to plant sticky monkey-flowers, seaside daisies and other native species in Friendship Park, which was inaugurated by first lady Pat Nixon in 1971 as a symbol of bilateral bonds.

The half-acre plaza separating San Diego and Tijuana has hosted cross-border yoga classes, festivals and religious services.

The garden’s rebirth is the latest twist in a sometimes-adversarial, sometimes-conciliatory relationship between security-minded border agents and activists who consider the park a special place to exercise rights to free expression. During an art festival in 2005, David Smith Jr, known as ‘The Human Cannonball’ flashed his passport, lowered himself into a barrel and was shot over the wall on the nearby beach, landing on a net with US Border Patrol agents nearby.

In 2017, professional swimmers crossed the border from the US in the Pacific Ocean and landed on the same beach, where a Mexican official greeted them with stamped passports and schoolchildren cheered.

Agents briefly opened a heavy steel gate several times a year but ended the practice after an American man and Mexican woman wed in a cross-border ceremony in 2017.

They were furious to learn later that the groom was a convicted drug smuggler whose criminal record prohibited him from entering Mexico.

Friends of Friendship Park, which advocates for “unrestricted access to this historic meeting place,” said the garden was created in 2007, shortly before a second barrier created a buffer enforcement zone that the Border Patrol opens to the public on weekends only.

People can barely touch fingertips through a steel mesh screen during those weekend encounters. The Border Patrol said in a statement after the garden was bulldozed that it was being used “as cover to hide smuggling activities.” It released photos that showed a padlock on the Mexican side, which smugglers apparently used to keep the roughly 46-centimetre opening to themselves.

Erin Cihak (L) and Elizabeth Lara plant native species in Friendship Park, located within California’s Border Field State Park in San Diego. PHOTO: AP