Border Patrol will not re-open doors in the border fence at Friendship Park this year, ending a series of events that allowed chosen families to reunite briefly on the line between the U.S. and Mexico.
The agency has cooperated with six door-opening events organized by local nonprofit Border Angels since 2013. A surprise marriage ceremony between a U.S. man and a Mexican woman at November’s opening placed the events under scrutiny after reports of the groom’s criminal record surfaced.
Enrique Morones, founder and executive director of Border Angels, said that neither the wedding nor the groom’s conviction were the reason behind the change.
Morones said Rodney Scott, who was appointed chief of the San Diego Border Patrol sector in December, turned down Morones’ request to hold similar events in the El Centro sector when he was chief there.
“He was totally against it,” Morones said. “He has that history.”
When groom Brian Houston’s drug smuggling conviction emerged in the weeks after his abbreviated ceremony, Scott warned that the wedding could have repercussions.
“This unauthorized event has now jeopardized future events and the continued opening of the border wall door,” Scott said at the time.
An official statement from Scott on Friday ending the door openings did not mention the nuptials.
“The maintenance gate being referred to is designed to allow safe, binational coordination between U.S. law enforcement personnel and our partners in Mexico,” Scott said. “Nationally, more than 320 official ports of entry have been federally designated as locations authorized to facilitate legitimate travel into and out of the United States. Many of those ports of entry are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“The U.S. Border Patrol will continue to uphold its responsibility of protecting our borders between official ports of entry. Moving forward, the maintenance gate will be used for maintenance purposes only.”
The “Door of Hope” events, as Border Angels called them, allowed family members who could not cross the border to reunite and hug for a couple of minutes.
Part of Border Field State Park in the southwest corner of San Diego County, Friendship Park is known for “pinky kisses” shared between family members separated by the fence.
In 2009, after the federal government added an additional layer of fencing, families had less access to interact with loved ones on the other side.
At the door opening in April 2013, a father and daughter hugged for the first time.
The gate openings had run smoothly until Houston and his bride Evelia Reyes arrived in November to the Door of Hope event dressed in suit and white gown. The process of vetting applicants to participate involved Morones distributing questionnaires to families who cannot cross the border legally and then passing them on to Border Patrol for background checks and approval.
Houston couldn’t cross into Mexico to marry Reyes because he was awaiting sentencing for his conviction. In February, he was arrested after officials at the San Ysidro port of entry found 43 pounds of heroin, 47 pounds of methamphetamine and 43 pounds of cocaine in his Volkswagen Jetta, according to a court document.
The revelation about Houston’s record left Border Patrol agents and Morones frustrated and blaming each other.
Joshua Wilson, vice president for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, said he doesn’t trust Morones.
“Enrique was not honest with any of us with the events that occurred that day,” Wilson said.
But Morones said he didn’t know about Houston’s situation or plan for the day. He contends that the Border Patrol should be held accountable because the agency is responsible for conducting background checks on all of the people wanting to participate in Door of Hope events.
On Friday night, Morones produced a copy of Houston’s application for participation in the Door of Hope event and driver’s license, which he said he gave to Border Patrol prior to the November opening.
“That’s serious stuff. How is it possible that the Border Patrol didn’t catch that?” Morones said. “It was a big mistake, and they don’t want to admit it.”
Morones said he will continue pushing for similar events in other sectors of the border where local chiefs might be more amenable to opening gates. He will also host other events at Friendship Park.
He is still hopeful that Scott will allow an event to go forward in March that would unite children with disabilities with their parents at the border even if the door remains closed.
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