By NOMAAN MERCHANT, HOUSTON (AP): The U.S. government persuaded a federal judge to prevent a private fundraising group from building its own wall next to the river that separates the U.S. and Mexico, despite the group’s longstanding claim that it is supporting President Donald Trump.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane’s Thursday order instructs We Build the Wall’s contractor, Fisher Industries, not to install any fencing or walls along the Rio Grande until it has met the requirements of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees the river under international treaty obligations.
The motion came two days after a state judge issued a separate temporary restraining order. Crews had continued clearing brush and preparing to build their planned wall, according to local sheriff’s deputies who visited the site Wednesday.
We Build the Wall has raised $25 million since December 2018, when founder Brian Kolfage launched a GoFundMe page during a government shutdown triggered by Trump’s demands for border wall funding. The organization’s board includes former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, another Trump ally.
So far, the group has built less than one mile (1.6 kilometers) near El Paso, Texas. It now plans a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) segment of posts and concrete in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, to be constructed by North Dakota-based Fisher Industries.
Fisher Industries was just awarded a $400 million U.S. government contract to build new border barriers in Arizona.
Kolfage has said in interviews that his group won’t begin construction until it gets the commission’s approval on plans that critics say could cause severe erosion and re-route floodwaters. But on social media and in fundraising messages, Kolfage has repeatedly solicited donations by claiming construction crews are close to installing fence posts just steps from the river.
Those messages have alarmed some nearby residents and opponents of wall construction, including the nonprofit National Butterfly Center, which is near the site where We Build the Wall wants to build. In response to criticism posted by the butterfly center, Kolfage has posted baseless claims that the butterfly center and others support drug cartels and human traffickers.
The International Boundary and Water Commission has asked for more information after Fisher Industries submitted a short document with rudimentary computer-generated diagrams that claimed construction would not worsen flooding.
The federal request for a temporary restraining order — filed on behalf of the commission — cites a fundraising message saying “the wall is going up this week no matter what,” and “we will not stop until it’s finished!” The federal motion says the message was posted Tuesday.
According to the Progress Times, Crane dismissed We Build the Wall from the lawsuit after Kobach, who serves as its general counsel, claimed in court Thursday that the group has no control over the project and mostly provides “social media cheerleading.”
Kolfage did not return a message seeking comment.
On Tuesday, State District Judge Keno Vasquez issued a similar restraining order barring construction on the request of Javier Pena, an attorney for the National Butterfly Center. He said the group was still violating the restraining order if it was preparing the land for eventual construction.
According to a report from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, work was continuing at the site Wednesday morning. Sheriff’s deputies who spoke to the property owner, Lance Neuhaus, say he knew about the restraining order.
“Everyone involves knows they’re clearing brush, clearing the land, flattening the land in order to put the wall up,” Pena said. “If the purpose is to construct this wall, then they shouldn’t be doing it.”