Privately funded border wall built at El Paso: 'Why wouldn't we allow it?' land owner asks

Aaron Martinez
Privately funded border wall built at El Paso: 'Why wouldn't we allow it?' land owner asks

EL PASO, Texas – A private group has built a $6 million bollard-type wall at the border on private property near El Paso with money raised from a GoFundMe account.

The segment of wall was paid for by the "We Build the Wall" organization on land owned by American Eagle Brick Company. It is by Monument One – an official marker at the spot where New Mexico, Texas and the Mexican state of Chihuahua converge.

Company co-owner Jeff Allen confirmed that the wall was being built on his property.

"Why wouldn't we allow it?" Allen asked. "We have dealt with illegals coming across. We have been attacked by illegals coming across. We have been burglarized by illegals. We have drug traffickers coming through here, and anyone who is against this is against America."

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Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state known for his hard-line immigration stances, announced that the wall was nearly complete on Memorial Day, calling it a gift to America.

Kobach is general counsel for We Build the Wall. He has been mentioned as a possible pick by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

"It was important to us to make the announcement today, on Memorial Day," Kobach told the El Paso Times during a tour of the site. "This wall is all about securing our border and our nation, so it is fitting, and we worked hard to get it built this holiday weekend. This is us trying to give America a present for Memorial Day."

He later added, "We built the wall and then hand the keys to the Border Patrol and say: 'Here. Happy Memorial Day.'"

Reached Monday, U.S. Border Patrol officials said that they could not immediately comment on the privately built wall.

'We Build The Wall' GoFundMe

The "We Build The Wall" project was started by a war veteran, Brian Kolfage, and is being led by a group that includes Kobach and former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

The Go Fund Me page calls the project "Trump approved." As of Monday afternoon, it had raised more than $22 million of its $1 billion goal.

A private group, We Build the Wall, built a bollard-type wall on the U.S.-Mexico border on private property near Monument One near the Texas-New Mexico area.

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The section of the wall in the El Paso area will cost $6 million to $8 million, Kobach said.

The wall spans about a half-mile near Mount Cristo Rey in Sunland Park, New Mexico, that was not covered by existing government fencing – a decision made at least partially because of the rough terrain.

Kobach said Border Patrol agents in the area have told him hundreds of immigrants have crossed there illegally, and more than $100,000 worth of drugs has been smuggled through the gap.

Gap in barrier at Sunland Park, NM

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, does not provide statistics on specific areas of land, but it has reported an increase in apprehensions of immigrants, primarily families, in the El Paso Sector, which covers West Texas and all of New Mexico.

Groups of hundreds have turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents just past where the fencing ends in Sunland Park, including a group of 300 who crossed the same night Trump held a rally in nearby El Paso.

Ninety percent of all illegal narcotics that enter the United States cross through the southern border, according to the border protection agency; however, most seized illegal drugs pass through the ports of entry.

“It is a half-mile, but it is a half-mile that is so important,” Kobach said. “I would argue that this half-mile is much more important than building 20 or 50 miles out in the desert, because of very few people are crossing in the middle of the desert. But here, you are this metropolitan area and so easy for people to swarm through this gap. This half-mile area has much more of an impact than you would think.”

The privately funded wall, which was expected to be completed Wednesday, is more than 20 feet tall and rises up a 300 foot incline over mountainous terrain. It extends 7 feet into the ground.

It includes sensors and lights that will go off when triggered by anyone crossing the area, Kobach said. The group will give control of the sensors to Border Patrol agents, he said, but the group has not discussed those plans with the agency yet.

Average donor gave $67, Kobach says

The wall is being paid completely by the GoFundMe campaign created by the group in December. Kobach said the average donor gave about $67, and more than 265,000 people donated.

"The GoFundMe just took off with $20 million in 20 days," Kobach said. "This shows collectively how we the people can say: 'You know what? This isn't rocket science. We can solve this problem.' And when a whole bunch of people chip in money, you can accomplish something like this."

While the El Paso wall will use about a third of the money raised so far, Kobach said, the remaining money will be used to build a similar wall in another area along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kobach declined to say where the next segment of wall will be built, to protect the identity of the owner of that property.

About the privately built wall

The privately built wall is similar to the $73 million bollard wall constructed by the U.S. government in April 2018 along the U.S.-Mexico border in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. 

But Kobach said the private group's wall is made from weathered steel and would last 50 years longer than the "mild" steel used on government fencing.

The U.S. government wall is 18 to 30 feet tall, depending on the terrain, and has anti-scaling plates at the top to make it more difficult to climb over, Border Patrol officials said at the time a groundbreaking ceremony was held for start of the construction.

The privately built wall is being constructed by Fisher Industries of North Dakota, Kobach said.

The Washington Post reported that Trump had encouraged the Army Corps of Engineers to consider Fisher for the government's border wall contract.

El Paso leaders react

Some El Paso leaders were upset about being the focus of outside efforts at border security.

"It’s deeply disturbing when outsiders, like Kris Kobach and Steve Bannon, come in and use our community and people as a backdrop to further their racist agenda," U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar said in a statement. "It’s even more disturbing that a business in our community is furthering this xenophobic narrative. While this wall may be necessary fuel for the president’s political campaign, it will not prevent people from seeking asylum."

She also noted the business ties between Trump and the company building the wall.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said he was not completely informed about the privately funded border fence, but he said national interests have often failed to include local leadership in their plans.

“I don’t know that these isolated random situations will create even more of a division between us in our own community,” Samaniego said of the often strong feelings that come with discussions of a border wall.

The city and county of El Paso have called on the federal government to reimburse the local governments for services provided to immigrants seeking U.S. asylum, he noted.

“That collaboration that should be taking place would solve so many (issues),” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing how the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in the country.”

City Rep. Peter Svarzbein said the Monument One area represents "our values and history where the border is uninterrupted by the wall."

"I’ve gone numerous times, brought visitors from out of town (to) see and take in the historical and cultural significance without a border fence," Svarzbein said. “It’s a federal park. I am concerned about public access to remain for this federal park that highlights the best of the values, culture and history of our community here on the border.”

He added, “I think anybody would hate to see their home as-a-made for TV prop for anybody’s political campaign.”

Svarzbein also questioned the need for a wall in the area, saying the Border Patrol already has a large presence there.

National emergency funds for wall blocked

The private construction comes as Border Patrol officials have said the U.S.-Mexico border is at a "breaking point" because of the large influx of immigrants coming to the U.S. seeking asylum. According to the official figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in April, the Southwest border area has seen more than 460,294 migrants detained in the 2019 fiscal year, which began in October.

Border protection officials said May 10 that the number of migrants caught illegally crossing the border had exceeded 109,000.

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Trump declared a national emergency in February to allocate government funds for a border wall after Congress rejected his request for $5.7 billion. A federal judge last Friday partially blocked the president's plan to fund the wall,  a move  the White House will probably appeal.

About $1 billion was blocked. The money was to come from the Department of Defense under the president's national emergency plan, according to a preliminary ruling. In addition, the Trump administration was blocked from constructing barriers in areas near El Paso and Yuma, Arizona.

But the ruling from Haywood Gilliam Jr. of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California does not prevent the Trump administration from allocating money from other sources.

Kobach said the "liberal court" makes his group's private projects even more necessary.

“Now more than ever we need it, because we have a liberal court decision that stopped President Trump from building in some the areas with the National Emergency funds,” Kobach said. “So, we the people need to step and do this private action to supplement what the federal government is doing. It really needs to be all hands on deck.”

Contributing: Aaron Montes, El Paso Times. Follow Aaron Martinez on Twitter: @AMartinez31

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Privately funded border wall built at El Paso: 'Why wouldn't we allow it?' land owner asks