That President Joe Biden’s record on immigration is controversial is no surprise. Few issues divide Americans as much. But Biden has pulled off the unusual feat of managing to anger conservatives and liberals alike with his discordant policies.
Critics on the right see an out-of-control crisis because the number of undocumented immigrants Border Patrol encountered at the southwest border in fiscal year 2022 topped 2.76 million, eclipsing the previous annual record by more than 1 million.
Critics on the left say Biden’s approach to immigration — despite a push for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — is just as cruel as that of his predecessor Donald Trump, whose immigration policies he blasted.
A specific example of this, alas, is on display in San Diego: Biden’s determination to follow through with Trump’s plan to build two large walls across Friendship Park. In February, echoing many others, Los Angeles Times columnist Jean Guerrero called the park “one of the world’s most powerful symbols of human interconnectedness.”
That’s a perfect description. From its creation in 1971 to its closure in 2019 and even now as activists advocate for its reopening, Friendship Park has been a revered place for families and friends divided by the border to meet, talk and touch at low-rise barriers with openings between Imperial Beach and Playas de Tijuana.
In January, however, after a brief pause in which it allegedly considered criticism of construction plans from both lawmakers and the public, Customs and Border Protection said it would resume border wall construction. Its tiny concession: one small stretch of one of the two 30-foot walls would only be 18 feet high. With construction resuming, park defenders traveled to Washington this week to lobby Biden administration officials to stop it. If they don’t, the project will be built without the administration ever responding in a direct way to many basic questions: Why not just renovate existing barriers, allowing the park to resume its past role as a beloved gathering place? Where is the evidence that this particular small part of the border is so porous that massive walls are essential? Where is any sign that the White House — or Biden — actually understands the park’s relevance and importance?
Biden’s aides may be listening. But the president himself needs to be responsive. Until he is, this issue should make San Diegans wonder whatever happened to the Joe Biden who vowed in 2020 to scrub the government of Trump’s “politics of fear.”