A private group backing President Donald Trump’s border wall has kicked off a new project on the US-Mexico border in an attempt to showcase its barrier designs and shore up support for the President’s signature issue.
It’s not the first time that We Build the Wall, a group founded by an Air Force veteran, has had a presence in the border. In May, the group, which had raised millions of dollars in a GoFundMe campaign, broke ground on a stretch of wall on private property in New Mexico.
Similar to the New Mexico project, the group is building on private land in the Rio Grande Valley region in Texas, a strategy that shields it from government intervention. It’s also using the same contractor: Fisher Industries, a company that’s captured Trump’s attention.
“I think the Trump administration will like this,” founder Brian Kolfage said about the latest roughly 3 miles of wall. “This will 100% change the game in Texas.”
Nearly three years into his presidency, Trump is still fighting to build and pay for his border wall, a key campaign issue. After failing to get his requests for wall funding passed by a Republican-held Congress during his first two years in office, Trump has met resistance this year from a Democratic-controlled House. His attempt to circumvent Congress through a national emergency declaration has been challenged in the courts.
Despite the uncertainty, construction firms have been competing to win multimillion-dollar contracts to build portions of the wall, including Fisher Industries, a North Dakota construction firm with a checkered legal record.
As Fisher bids for those government projects, which are awarded by the US Army Corps of Engineers, it’s also serving as the main contractor for We Build The Wall’s new project, as it did in New Mexico.
The government has “the potential to buy finished product that they see works, that provides a better security solution and lasts,” Tommy Fisher, president and CEO of Fisher Industries, told CNN.
Fisher has discussed his support for the border wall and has pitched his company as the one to build it in a series of media appearances. In a March 5 appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Fisher said his company could build 234 miles of border wall for $4.3 billion, compared with the $5.7 billion that the Trump administration has requested from Congress.
Fisher maintains that his company’s designs are more sustainable and cost less. The Texas private project, which will cover around 3 miles of the border, includes infrastructure, like a slope for boats and a roadway, and will sit just feet from the river, according to designs reviewed by CNN.
The 3-mile stretch in Texas is expected to be completed by Christmas.
The new construction has already generated controversy. The National Butterfly Center, which is near the project’s location and has pushed back on other wall construction, has called the new construction “illegal,” alleging it violates international treaty laws prohibiting building on the Rio Grande. Kolfage says the new wall obeys all state and federal regulations.
Kolfage and Fisher declined to put a price tag on the project. We Build the Wall has a donation page online, urging people to “be a part of this historic project.”
“The politicians are playing games. They need to come together and solve this and stop playing with people’s lives,” Kolfage said. “And it’s Republicans and Democrats. The elected officials aren’t getting the job done.”
Fisher noted that his company is purchasing the land where the wall will go up from a private owner.
Acquiring land to build a border wall is expected to pose challenges for the Trump administration as it prepares to construct in areas that are largely privately owned.
Generally, the government is allowed to take privately owned land if it’s for public use, otherwise known as eminent domain. Eminent domain cases can be lengthy, though they generally don’t keep the agency from being able to proceed with construction. Landowners are often fighting for what is known as just compensation — what they deem a fair price for their property.
Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan acknowledged the hurdles associated with eminent domain during a news conference Thursday, citing old records, lawsuits and land that might have multiple landowners.
So far, Customs and Border Protection has updated roughly 78 miles of existing barrier, swapping out old, dilapidated designs with a newer system.
“Right now, the 78 miles that have been built have been built where there was an existing form of barrier,” Morgan said Thursday. “We just started breaking ground in (Rio Grande Valley), where we’re building miles of new wall where there has been no structure there at all.”
The administration says it intends to complete 450 miles by the end of 2020.