MIRAMAR BEACH — Donations to an online GoFundMe initiative to fund private construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico continue to push toward the $25 million mark, but the organizer of the wall construction effort concedes that the next two planned sections of the wall likely will come close to depleting those funds.
The effort was begun late last year by Brian Kolfage, a 37-year-old retired Air Force airman who lost both legs and an arm in a 2004 rocket attack on an air base in Iraq, and who in recent years has been outspoken on illegal immigration.
Kolfage, a resident of Miramar Beach, started the GoFundMe campaign with an initial goal of raising $1 billion to assist the federal government in building a border wall. Within weeks the effort, far short of the ambitious $1 billion goal, shifted focus toward privately funded wall construction under the umbrella of a nonprofit group, We Build The Wall Inc., headed by Kolfage.
The group recently completed its first section of wall, an approximately 1-mile stretch of concrete and steel bollard barrier in Sunland Park, New Mexico, near El Paso, Texas. The privately built wall links a 21-mile section of existing wall with some impassable terrain on Mount Cristo Rey. That section of wall cost an estimated $7.5 million, according to Kolfage.
Moving forward, Kolfage said in a recent interview, We Build The Wall Inc. is going to continue to focus on filling short gaps between existing segments of government-built border barriers rather than covering large distances.
"We're not going to build hundreds of miles," Kolfage said. "That's just not going to happen."
We Build The Wall Inc. has already selected the sites for its next two sections of wall. One of those sections will be in the area of the just-completed segment, while another will be in a completely different area, Kolfage said. We Build The Wall Inc. has declined to provide specific locations for its planned construction projects, out of a stated concern that knowing the locations might prompt opponents of the effort to take action against the project.
One of the next two sections of wall will cover 1 mile, and the other section will cover 2 miles, Kolfage said. Both will traverse flat land, and should cost less than the first section, Kolfage said. We Build The Wall will continue to work with Fisher Industries, the North Dakota-based company that built the first section of the wall, for future projects, Kolfage said.
We Build The Wall Inc. is currently talking with landowners along the two new proposed wall routes, according to Kolfage.
"They're all in with us," he said.
In the coming days, Kolfage said, members of Congress, including Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, will be touring the site of the constructed wall, as We Build The Wall talks with federal government officials about ways for the private construction effort to interface with the government's efforts.
"We just have to prove ourselves," Kolfage said.
Kolfage also commented on a recent closed-door session of the Sunland Park City Council, which an official announcement indicated was called to discuss "threatened litigation" regarding the wall. It was not clear from the announcement whether the executive session involved litigation threatened by the city, or litigation threatening the city. The city council took no action as a result of the closed-door meeting, called after the wall was completed, and city officials have not returned phone calls seeking comment. At one point, the city had issued a cease-and-desist order to halt wall construction, but officials rescinded that order two days later.
According to Kolfage, the executive session was called to discuss a municipal response to the nonprofit's assertion that it might seek $300,000 per day in damages for the work stoppage.
In other comments during his recent interview, Kolfage addressed the announcement that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has opened an investigation into the nonprofit We Build The Wall Inc. The investigation was launched following three complaints filed with the state attorney general, but the consumer services agency has had only limited comment on the probe.
"As this matter is now an active investigation, the Department cannot comment further, "a department spokesman said recently. "No additional information is available at this time."
According to Kolfage, who said the nonprofit's lawyers have looked into the matter, the complaints raise some general concerns about the nonprofit's activities, but We Build The Wall Inc. is not particularly concerned.
"People are just assuming that we're not doing things right," Kolfage said, adding that the group expected to come under scrutiny, and has been diligent in regard to assuring the legality of its efforts.