On Thursday and Friday, within three days of a temporary restraining order being issued, the Guardian found construction crews with at least 10 heavy machinery vehicles moving soil, digging trenches and positioning tall metal posts along the US bank of the Rio Grande in Hidalgo county, which forms the border with Mexico. A 3.5-mile, privately-funded concrete barrier is planned on the site, near Mission, Texas.
The state court order was served to We Build the Wall (WBTW), an anti-migrant group founded by military veteran Brian Kolfage, and the landowners, Neuhaus and Sons LLC, whose land is situated between Trump’s proposed wall and the Mexican border.
WBTW is a not-for-profit group that has crowd-funded millions of dollars by tapping into anti-migrant fervor and is led by former White House advisor Steve Bannon as chairman of its advisory board. Kolfage has described migrants as terrorists and drug traffickers, and accuses border wall critics as being cartel collaborators.
The injunction, issued on Tuesday by a state judge, was granted citing potential “imminent and irreparable damage” to the National Butterfly Center, a popular 100-acre riverfront nature reserve adjacent to the Neuhaus property. The wall could act as a dam and redirect floodwater and debris to the sanctuary, destroying an ecosystem which sustains hundreds of native butterfly species and birds, the center said.
Shortly after the ruling, Kolfage posted a video on Twitter of a man standing on the riverbank wearing a fluorescent vest, identified only as “Foreman Mike”, who said that thanks to “patriotic donors” a mile and a half of land had been cleared, and steel bollards and panels would be installed within 48 hours.
On Wednesday, Kolfage said that construction work continued as neither he, or the group, had been physically served with the order.
Work was still going on on Friday afternoon when the Guardian was given access to an adjacent private plot, and witnessed crews moving soil, excavating a trench on a vast stretch of cleared riverbank, and preparing it for concrete foundations and metal posts. A Border Patrol vehicle was parked close to the bulldozers, partially hidden by lofty sugar cane.
An employee of the construction company Fisher Industries, who identified himself as Sean, confirmed that work had continued uninterrupted – despite the injunction.
But, in a twist, judge Crane agreed to dismiss WBTW as a defendant after its lawyer and prominent conservative, Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, claimed the group mostly handled “social media cheerleading” for the project and was nothing more than a passive investor, providing only 5% of the funding.
“We don’t have any control over the project or the machinery or what’s going on,” Kobach said in court in the Southern District of Texas.
“Where is the money?” said Javier Peña, a lawyer acting for the National Butterfly Center. “They use fear and anger to divide people and convince them to give money for a wall which they now say they are not funding. We build the Wall is either misleading its donors, which is fraud, or lying to a federal judge.”
Source: The Guardian Newspaper.