* Existing barrier is falling apart, unsightly
* Beachfront park already looks like a jail, locals say
By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO, Calif., Feb 7 U.S. authorities
are building a steel and concrete barrier 300 feet (90 meters)
out into the Pacific Ocean south of San Diego to curb dangerous
attempts by illegal immigrants and smugglers to slip through the
breakers to California.
The new maritime fence is being built at a cost of $4.3
million at the point where the U.S.-Mexico border plunges into
the ocean between San Diego and the industrial powerhouse of
Tijuana, in northwest Mexico.
The new "surf fence" is a steel-and-concrete barrier up to
18 feet tall that replaces a rusted and uneven line of posts.
"It was falling apart, it was out of alignment, it looked
like a bad set of teeth," said Customs and Border Protection
spokesman Ralph DeSio.
"This is going to be much more aesthetically appealing to
that area, but it also strengthens our abilities to prevent
those dangerous smuggling attempts along that shoreline."
Federal authorities have in recent years added fencing and
Border Patrol agents along the southwest U.S. border with Mexico
in a bid to stop illegal immigrant crossings and drug smuggling
to the United States .
Congress also mandated building a further 650
miles (1040 km) of fencing along the 2,000-mile (3,200 km)
Recent attempts to slip north through the surf and inshore
waters to Imperial Beach, south of San Diego, have included two
smugglers nabbed with marijuana piled onto a surfboard in 2009,
and a pair of wetsuit-clad illegal immigrants arrested last
February with self-propelled underwater dive scooters.
Illegal immigrants have also taken to the sea to swim around
the existing barrier to Border Field State Park in southern
California. One man drowned attempting the trip last November.
The upgrade comes at a time when smugglers are increasingly
pushing further out to sea in open-topped "panga" fishing boats
to run illegal immigrants and tons of marijuana up the coast as
far as Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
There have been 14 incidents there since last October.
In a bid to make it more resilient to the pounding Pacific
waves, the new barrier, due for completion in March, is coated
with protectants inside and out and filled with concrete. It has
an estimated life of up to 30 years, DeSio said.
The effort underway to ratchet up security at the beach,
which includes a stretch of fencing that runs 900 feet inland,
is raising some eyebrows in Tijuana.
Policeman Cesar Ochoa is struck by the transformation to
Parque Amistad, or Friendship Park, just back from the beach,
where families separated by the border would chat informally
through the bars of the fence beside a historic monument.
A double fence now walls off the area and prevents visitors
from getting within a few feet of each other. "The only thing
that remains from that time are the cement tables where people
used to meet. There were Border Patrol agents watching over them
... but they let people interact," Ochoa said.
Local government employee Adriana Medina, 33, remembers
families picnicking and playing ball and even partying in the
park when she was growing up and is surprised by the upgrade
that pushed "steel posts right into the sea."
"It looks like a jail," she told Reuters. "I think it's an
(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Editing
by Tim Gaynor and Daniel Trotta)