The crowdfunding platform GoFundMe said more than $20 million (£15.5 million) in donations were slated to be refunded after a campaign to raise $1 billion for the Trump administration to build a wall on the border with Mexico fell well short of its goal.
The fundraising campaign, which began last month, had gone viral as President Donald Trump’s attempt to get Congress to pay for the wall fuelled a heated political dispute and resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government.
But in a note posted on the campaign’s website on Friday, Mr Kolfage said the federal government would not be able to accept the donations “anytime soon.”
Mr Kolfage said in an interview that donating to the government would have required approval from Congress, and he knew a Democrat-controlled House would not give its approval.
Instead, Mr Kolfage said, he has formed a Florida-based non-profit organisation called We Build the Wall that will use donations to finance a private effort to build parts of the wall where private landowners allow construction.
GoFundMe donors would have to proactively choose to redirect their money to the non-profit; otherwise, they would be refunded.
Mr Kolfage said he did not know exactly how many donors would want to redirect their money nor how many landowners would want parts of the wall constructed on their properties.
“When Americans see us completing real miles of beautiful wall, we know that we will raise the many billions we need to finally secure the entire border,” Mr Kolfage said on the updated GoFundMe campaign page.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Trump administration did not respond to requests for comment on Friday evening on the possibility of a privately funded effort to build the wall.
Typically, GoFundMe campaigns can still collect money even if they do not meet their goal.
But Bobby Whithorne, a spokesperson for GoFundMe, said in a statement on Friday that Mr Kolfage’s original campaign page had said “If we don’t reach our goal or come significantly close we will refund every single penny” and that “100% of your donations will go to the Trump Wall. If for ANY reason we don’t reach our goal we will refund your donation.”
Mr Whithorne said that since the campaign was not going to reach the $1 billion goal and both GoFundMe and Mr Kolfage had determined the money raised could not be given to the federal government, GoFundMe had contacted all donors to the original campaign about the refund.
Donors can ask for a refund immediately, Mr Whithorne said, but if they do not choose to redirect their money to the non-profit, they will automatically receive a refund in 90 days.
Immigration advocacy groups had condemned the GoFundMe campaign as a xenophobic result of fearmongering about immigrants. Some had started competing fundraising campaigns to raise money for Refugee and Immigrant Centre for Education and Legal Services, a Texas non-profit known as RAICES.
Jonathan Ryan, president and chief executive of RAICES, said despite the change in Mr Kolfage’s campaign, the original critiques of it still stand.
“It’s a difference without a change,” Mr Ryan said. “The wall remains the wrong direction for us as a country, something that will not help advance any of our national interests and that would only serve to further harm vulnerable refugees and immigrants seeking protection in our country.”
This week, Mr Trump appeared on television in an attempt to pressure Congress into paying for the border wall, characterising the situation at the Mexican border as a “humanitarian crisis” that was exposing the country to crime, drugs and terrorism.
Experts, however, point out that migrant border crossings have been declining over about two decades. The State Department said in a recent report there was “no credible evidence” that terrorist groups had sent operatives to enter the country through Mexico.
The New York Times