Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SUNLAND PARK – As the president copes with legal barriers to his proposed border wall, a private organization is building a half-mile section of border wall on private land in New Mexico paid for with donations.
“We see it both as an opportunity to show the government it can be done and then to take action that has an impact right away on illegal activity,” said Dustin Stockton, vice president of We Build the Wall.
Stockton co-founded the organization with Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee.
We Build the Wall raised more than $20 million through a crowdfunding campaign. Former Trump administration senior adviser Steve Bannon is part of the leadership team.
They chose a section of border land owned by American Eagle Brick Co. for the first project. Construction crews began work on the half-mile bollard-style structure Saturday and expected to finish in five days.
“We’re filling a gap between two existing barriers, because you have the wall in El Paso and the actual unpassable parts of Mount Cristo Rey here,” Stockton said Tuesday as he walked through the busy construction site.
Border Patrol agents along this stretch of border have been coping with an influx of migrants seeking asylum. Most are families from Central America, but there are also large numbers of Cubans and Brazilians.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the new section of wall or its possible impact.
“Building a half-mile of wall here is far more important than building 20 miles of wall in the middle of the desert where nobody is crossing,” said Kris Kobach, a legal adviser for We Build the Wall.
He said that the wall is within 15 feet of the border and that the property owner did not have to abide by the Roosevelt Reservation, in which the federal government declared jurisdiction over a 60-foot strip of land along the border.
Ownership of the land dates back to 1888, before President Teddy Roosevelt established the federal buffer by proclamation in 1907.
“We stayed on the private property the whole time. We’re basically following the property line,” Kobach said.
The International Boundary and Water Commission confirmed the wall was not on federal land.
But the property owner also has to comply with Sunland Park ordinances, which a city spokesman said had not been done.
“There have been no permits given,” Sunland Park spokesman Peter Ibarbo said late Tuesday afternoon. “As of now, there’s been a stop order or a cease-and-desist order on the construction until they can follow the process, making sure everything is compliant to the codes, to the municipal codes for building structures.”
The property owner submitted a request for a permit Friday, and construction began over the weekend before it could be approved.
“The fact that they did it in the dead of night, over a holiday weekend, so that the residents would not have time to object, is despicable, and the fact that they apparently did it without getting the proper permit from the city of Sunland Park demonstrates their lack of respect for the rule of law, and they should have to take it down,” said Kevin Bixby with the Southwest Environmental Center.
The Las Cruces-based organization is among wildlife conservation groups involved in a lawsuit to block construction of a section of border wall in New Mexico funded by President Trump’s emergency declaration, which tapped into military money.
Stockton said We Build the Wall notified Border Patrol about the construction.
“I don’t know that we would say that we asked for permission. However, we have briefed Border Patrol and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) each step along the way. We made sure that they were aware of what is happening,” Stockton said.
The group said its border wall is better built than existing structures because it has heavy-duty steel that lasts 75 years rather than the “garden variety,” which wears out after 25 years, according to Kobach.
He said the project has the “blessing” of President Trump.
“He’s very pleased,” Kobach said.