Friendship Park On US-Mexico Border To Be Closed Because of Sequester Cuts

PHOTO: A group of students tours Friendship Park on U.S.-Mexico border.
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Friendship Park at the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego will be closing because of sequester cuts, a spokesman told ABC/Univision News.

The park, which is the size of a basketball court, sits between double 20-foot fences and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. For more than four decades, the park has been a meeting place for friends and families separated by the border.

Rodney Scott, deputy chief of the Border Patrol in the San Diego region, posted a notice of the closure on Facebook March 18.

"Due to the Federal budget sequestration, the San Diego Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol must take steps to ensure that it retains sufficient staffing to continue to meet its priority mission of providing border security. Budget reductions as a result of sequestration will result in mandatory furlough of USBP employees for the remainder of the Fiscal Year 2013."

The statement went on to say that Border Patrol had to focus its resources on "mission critical" enforcement.The park will close April 6th, 2013.

Friends of Friendship Park, a group that advocates for the park, expressed disappointment. "We're opposed to this closure," Jill Holslin, member of Friends of Friendship Park, told ABC/Univision News. "We believe friendship and cooperation and working with bi-national cooperation is an equally important part of border security. This park was created to maintain amicable relations."

Founded in 1971 by First Lady Pat Nixon, the park allowed people on both sides of the border to meet, chat or even celebrate baptisms and quinceañeras. There was no fence then and Nixon reportedly said "I hate to see a fence anywhere" as she stepped into Mexico to shake hands.

Border security intensified through Operation Gatekeeper under Presidents Bill Clinton in 1994 when a steel fence was erected. A second fence authorized by President George W. Bush was completed in 2012.

The park had reopened on weekends in October 2012 following a three-year battle to open to allow public access after the construction of a second fence cut off the park in 2009.

On April 7, Friends of Friendship Park will hold a silent march to the closed gate of the park to protest its closure.

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