This Easter weekend, while President Trump was at his luxurious hotel in Mar-a-Lago in Florida, thousands of persons hoping for asylum in the U.S. were waiting in tents, shelters and detention facilities in cities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
South of San Diego, California, at the International Friendship Park on the beach walled off from Mexico, Easter religious services were held for families split apart by the fence and by U.S immigration policies. Reverend John, a Methodist pastor, was on the U.S. side of the fence and Roberto was on the Mexico side. Two women and their families who are awaiting in Mexico for their U.S. asylum interview numbers to be called, sang for the crowd. Deported U.S. veterans served food to the group on the Mexico side of the fence.
To get to the U.S. side of the International Friendship Park, one must park one and one-half miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and walk on a rutted road out to the beach. This weekend yellow, red and blue spring flowers covered the marshlands and small hills on the way out to the beach. At the end of the road is the International Friendship Park, deserted except for Border Patrol vehicles and families who have walked, many pushing baby strollers with the family's latest member, a mile and a half to visit through a fence with relatives on the Mexican side.
In stark contrast to the deserted U.S. beach, on the Mexican side of the International Friendship Park, one can drive directly to the park and the beach which is filled with swimmers and beachcombers and others enjoying the restaurants along the beach.
The U.S.-Mexico border at the Pacific Ocean is composed of two very tall fences. The fences are about thirty feet apart with sensors and cameras to alert U.S Border Patrol that someone has climbed the first fence and is in the no-mans before the second fence. Each Sunday, U.S. Border Patrol opens up an area called Friendship Circle to give families an opportunity to communicate through the fence with relatives on the other side. Only ten people at a time are allowed to enter a gate in the second border wall that gives access to the first fence. The area designated for families to get next to the fence is about one hundred feet long and the wall is at least 20 feet high. The slatted fence has several layers of "mesh," or tightly woven steel rods, welded to it, allowing only the tip of one's little finger to be touched by people on the other side. One can talk through the mesh, but the person with whom one is speaking looks pixilated because the holes in the mesh are so small.
Two families on the U.S. side were talking with persons from their extended family from Honduras who were waiting in Mexico for their numbers to be called by ICE for interviews. One family has been waiting for weeks for their number to be called for an interview in San Diego. In the meantime, they are living in shelters in Tijuana.
Reverend John said he had been working for the past 25 years with immigrants and refugees both in Mexico and in the United States. He reminded me that large numbers of persons have been crossing into the U.S. for decades. Each U.S. presidential administration believes that fences and walls will stem the flow of persons to the U.S., but history has proven each president wrong.
Now along the Tijuana border there is a double fence, but people keep coming although most along this section of the border are turning themselves in to Border Patrol rather than coming in illegally. Rev. John said that the ease of making phone calls to the families who live in the U.S. allows persons in Central America to find out where jobs are and have promises of housing and employment before they leave their homes. He noted that documenting violence -- the beatings, murders, burning of businesses and homes is much easier now that everyone has a cellphone camera and allows asylum requesters to provide to ICE as evidence of their fear of danger in their home country.
I had been on the other side of the border several days earlier going into Mexico at the Tijuana-San Yisidro crossing. After going through Mexican immigration, one emerges from the fenced border crossing passageways onto a large plaza. Each morning the plaza is filled with lines of people waiting for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to arrive to give out numbers to persons who want to apply for asylum in the United States. After receiving their numbers, they leave the plaza and a second group begins arriving on the plaza -- those whose numbers are anticipated to be called that day by ICE. It may be days or weeks from getting a number before one's number is called and during that time, individuals and families must find someplace to stay in Mexico. Keeping track of which numbers are going to be called each day is an effort by not only the individuals but of organizations that attempt to help the asylum seekers.