Monday, June 26, 2023

Reflections from Friendship Park and Hofstra Law’s Border Program

Guest post by Jonathan Fuzailov and Professor Alexander Holtzman of The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

Hofstra law student Jonathan Fuzailov and Professor Alexander Holtzman, among others, went to the border as part of Hofstra Law school’s Immigration Law and Border Enforcement Program. Jonathan intended to learn about immigration law and the current situation at the border. As a child of immigrant parents, he took a leap to join the program and was glad he did. Jonathan experienced firsthand what the border wall is and its impacts on both sides of the wall. The trips to the U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol, U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, all shed light on U.S. immigration laws and how they are enforced. While the trips to a health clinic in Tijuana, detention center, and guest lecturers by Nicole Ramos, a former U.S. Assistant Federal Public Defender and now the director of Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project that helps asylums seekers in Tijuana, and Jenn Budd, former Border Patrol officer turned whistleblower, shed light on the true story of how laws are neglected and what actually happens at the border.

Friendship Park, located at the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, has historically been a symbol of both separation and sometimes cooperation between the two countries. However, the continued construction of the border wall has significantly impacted the dynamics and emotions associated with this unique space. What was once – despite the divide – a place of cultural exchange, family reunions, and shared experiences now bears witness even more starkly to physical separation and division. An imposing wall stands as a symbol of barriers and restrictions, evoking feelings of sadness, frustration, and a sense of loss among those who gather on both sides.

The border wall disrupts familial connection at Friendship Park. Families and friends, separated by the wall, cannot physically embrace, or interact freely because of the addition of a mesh fence to the already existing wall that only allows for a thin pinky to penetrate to the other side. If that weren’t enough, a second wall that is currently being fortified on the U.S. side that makes any reunion of families impossible. The wall severs the opportunity for shared experiences and the expression of love and support. It is a painful reminder of the separation and challenges faced by those on the Mexican side in maintaining relationships with loved ones on the U.S. side.

Challenges of family separation also confront those living in the U.S. On the last day of our program, most of our class hiked to Friendship Park on the U.S. side of the border. That day, we met a family with the same intentions. The patriarch asked us quietly in Spanish what we saw during our hike. He seemed concerned about immigration enforcement near Friendship Park. As we boarded the bus after our hike, our bus driver – who had just finished speaking to this family – shared the man’s story. After more than 20 years in the U.S., this man and his family were hiking to Friendship Park to catch a glimpse of his mother in the flesh. Presumably because of his lack of immigration status and consequent inability to participate in circular migration, he had not seen his mother in person for 20 years. After we wished the family well, watched them slowly begin their hike, and our bus pulled away, we all took a moment to reflect on what we had just seen and heard. We hoped he made it to see his mother in person for the first time in so long. But we also knew, after just being there ourselves, that even if they saw one another; they would not be permitted to embrace. They could not even touch pinky fingers through the border wall and mesh. A Border Patrol officer was stationed near the wall on the U.S. side of Friendship Park, and he was ordering anyone who approached the wall to stand back.

Despite the challenges and emotional impact presented by the border wall, there is a sense of hope and resilience among those on the Mexican side of Friendship Park. The Mexican side has a garden, a stadium for gatherings, and a thriving city. Somehow, there is still joy, even in the face of physical barriers. People continue to gather, express solidarity, and spread art across the wall in Mexico. Some of the artwork is dedicated to veterans, lost loved ones, and the strength of family ties that are stronger than any wall. Hope remains that, despite the constant noise and traffic from barrier construction on the U.S. side of Friendship Park, these barriers will one day be dismantled, and Friendship Park will one day resemble its namesake.

-posted by KitJ on behalf of Jonathan Fuzailov and Professor Alexander Holtzman

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