Group building privately funded border wall plans to expand

AP National - World

Brian Kolfage, founder of We Build the Wall Inc., speaks at a news conference Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Sunland Park, N.M., where a privately funded wall is being constructed. The New Mexico city is allowing construction to resume of the privately funded barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border following questions about its permit. (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. (AP) — Organizers behind an online fundraising campaign to build privately funded barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border said Thursday that they cleared a construction hurdle with a city in southern New Mexico and that they have plans for 10 more projects.

Workers poured concrete and a Trump 2020 banner hung on a section of bollard-style barriers at the site in Sunland Park. The work resumed after We Build the Wall Inc. obtained a pair of permits from local officials, who had temporarily halted construction.

The section is a symbolic victory for supporters of President Donald Trump’s efforts to build barriers along the border as Congress and the courts have blocked some of his efforts to curb illegal immigration.

Once completed, the section in New Mexico will be just under a half-mile long, a tiny portion of the 1,954-mile (3,145-kilometer) southern border. The group estimates the price tag will range from $6 million to $8 million.

Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who created We Build the Wall Inc., visited the site Thursday. He declined to provide more details about plans for future projects and would not reveal where they would be.

“Nothing is off the table,” Kolfage said when asked if his supporters would flood local authorities with phone calls if they resist future projects, which Sunland Park faced.

The group had erected around 1,500 feet (457 meters) of fencing along private property over the weekend without going through Sunland Park’s review process.

Building inspectors determined that an application for a construction permit was incomplete and the city sent a cease-and-desist order. That prompted thousands of phone calls from the group’s supporters.

Once the city completed its review, it issued permits for the structure itself and related pedestals for lighting.

“Neither phone calls, emails, nor visits to City Hall played a role in our decision to issue permits,” City Manager Julia Brown told The Associated Press in an email Thursday. “The requirement to file an application for a permit, the review of applications and inspection of construction projects is a purely regulatory process and function.”

The group plans to sign an agreement that will allow U.S. border authorities to patrol the private property without having to hand over ownership to federal officials, said Kris Kobach, the group’s legal counsel and a former Kansas secretary of state.

Kolfage said he chose the site in southern New Mexico because of a willing landowner and its proximity to what he described as a busy smuggling corridor. He also credited the attention drawn by a militia group that posted videos of large groups of migrants crossing the border.

U.S. authorities confirmed Thursday that a single group of more than 1,000 migrants crossed in neighboring El Paso, Texas, early Wednesday, marking the largest group ever encountered by Border Patrol agents.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Robert E. Perez said in a statement that the latest group “demonstrates the severity of the border security and humanitarian crisis at our Southwest border.”

“I rolled across New Mexico and rolled back, in my wheelchair,” said Kolfage, a triple amputee. “I knew this was a bad area.”

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