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San Diego, California

Friendship Park

Every weekend, people gather here for a brief chance to see their loved ones on the other side of the U.S.–Mexico border. 

On most days, San Diego’s Friendship Park is a lonely, isolated place. But on weekends, it’s buzzing with Americans hoping to see their relatives on the other side of the United States and Mexico border.

People come from hours away for their brief chance at interacting with loved ones. Families and friends who haven’t seen each other for years are both united and, yet, sadly still divided. Though they’re in the same place at the same time, even standing face to face mere inches from one another, a towering, impenetrable fence stands between them.

The fortifications didn’t exist when the park was dedicated in 1971 by First Lady Pat Nixon. Only a monument and a chainlink fence marked the divide between the two neighboring countries. It truly was a place of friendship, as it had always been since the border was defined. People on both sides could hold hands and hug one another, share food and gifts, and even receive communion together.

But security around the border strengthened as the decades passed, particularly after the events of 9/11. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security closed the park to construct a stronger, more impenetrable border. Now, two massive, well-guarded fences separate the two countries.

The park finally reopened in 2012, after much backlash from activists. Every Saturday and Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the U.S. Border Control allows people to trickle into the heavily supervised area. Though visitors can enter the outer fence, a second barrier of solid, steel mesh blocks them from crossing over to the other side.

For visitors on either side, it’s as if they’re viewing their loved ones within some sort of temporary museum display—they may look, talk, and listen, but touching is no longer an option. The fences make it impossible for people on opposite sides to embrace one another. The only physical contact anyone can hope for is perhaps the brush of a finger slipped through one of the small gaps.

People can, however, still pray together. On Sundays, two pastors from the Border Church hold service on at the same time on opposite sides of the fence. It’s a rare opportunity for families and friends across the divide to come together in song and prayer.