Private Border Wall Started by Wounded Veteran Sees First Section Completed

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Retired Air Force Airman Brian Kolfage, right, gives a piece of cheese to his one-year-old daughter Paris Kolfage as his wife Ashley Kolfage looks on at their home in Sandestin, Fla., April 1, 2015. Kolfage was struck by a rocket while serving with the Air Force as a security forces officer in Iraq. He lost both legs and his right arm in the attack. (AP Photo/Northwest Florida Daily News, Nick Tomecek)
FILE -- Retired Air Force Airman Brian Kolfage, right, gives a piece of cheese to his one-year-old daughter Paris Kolfage as his wife Ashley Kolfage looks on at their home in Sandestin, Florida, April 1, 2015. Kolfage was struck by a rocket while serving with the Air Force as a security forces officer in Iraq. He lost both legs and his right arm in the attack. (AP Photo/Northwest Florida Daily News, Nick Tomecek)

MIRAMAR BEACH -- The day after the privately funded U.S.-Mexico border wall initiative headed by wounded warrior and conservative activist Brian Kolfage announced completion of the first section of the project, the city council in the New Mexico town where the wall was built went behind closed doors to discuss "threatened litigation" regarding the structure.

It was not clear whether the closed-door session, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the city of Sunland Park, would involve legal action threatened by the city or legal action threatened by the property owner or We Build The Wall Inc., the nonprofit organization led by Kolfage. A city spokesman was not available immediately Wednesday for comment, but according to a report from El Paso NBC affiliate KTSM-TV, the council took no immediate action as a result of the executive session.

A retired Air Force airman, Kolfage lost both legs and an arm in a 2004 rocket attack on an air base in Iraq, and in recent years has been outspoken on illegal immigration. Late last year, Kolfage, of Miramar Beach, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1 billion to assist the federal government in building a border wall. Within weeks the effort, far short of the ambitious $1 billion goal, had shifted focus toward privately funded wall construction under the umbrella of the nonprofit group.

Neither Kolfage nor We Build The Wall Inc. communications director Jennifer Lawrence returned phone calls seeking comment for this story. But in a post on the online GoFundMe campaign page, Kolfage wrote, "WE BUILT THE WALL!! Our first wall segment is complete just outside of El Paso, Texas!" The segment, which runs more than a half-mile, links an existing 21-mile section of the border fence with a stretch of impassible terrain beginning at nearby Mount Cristo Rey.

Kolfage added, "The one thing I've learned after losing three limbs in war is that NOTHING is impossible, and just as so many said 'you can't do that' or 'building the wall privately is impossible' our team just proved them all wrong!"

As of Wednesday, the GoFundMe campaign was closing in on $24 million. The first section of the wall cost about $7 million, according to Kolfage.

We Build The Wall Inc. is already identifying sites for other sections of border wall, and expects construction of the initial section of the wall to spur donations, Kolfage said recently.

According to the GoFundMe page, work on the second and third sections of the wall is in the "contracting phase," but locations won't be formally announced until the two segments are complete. The nonprofit organization has been reluctant to identify the location of wall construction projects out of concern that opponents might try to stymie those efforts.

In a news conference held as the wall was nearing completion -- after the city had issued, and then rescinded, a "cease-and-desist" order to halt construction -- Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea said two of the three permits needed for the project had been issued "prematurely" by city officials. But because the permits had been issued, the city opted to work with Fisher Industries, the Arizona-based company contracted for the work, to bring the wall into compliance with city ordinances.

According to Perea, We Build The Wall Inc. erroneously interpreted the issuance of the two permits, for fence construction and lighting installation, "as a go-ahead for the entire project."

Perea said the construction project had been "railroaded onto the city" in such a way as to "not allow the staff to vet the entire case." Perea was particularly critical of We Build The Wall Inc. for starting the project during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, when many city staff members were away from their offices.

Despite Perea's comments, We Build The Wall was proclaiming a second victory on its Facebook page following Tuesday's City Council meeting, which the mayor did not attend.

"We prevailed ... AGAIN!" the post noted. "With the stop-work order from last week lifted, the city of Sunland Park, NM has decided to not take any action against our group and border wall project!"

Nonetheless, Perea used his news conference to offer some broader criticism of the wall project in his city, saying it would do little more than move people intent on crossing into the United States to other locations on the border with Mexico. As a result, the wall in Sunland Park won't curb the illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human trafficking that wall supporters aim to stop, Perea said.

"I think those problems are more systemic and a bigger issue than this particular wall," Perea said. "Although it might funnel some people to different locations, it's not going to curb those issues. Ultimately it falls on Congress and the president to establish immigration policy and work on curbing the appetite for the consumption of drugs."

This article is written by Jim Thompson | Northwest Florida Daily News from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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