MISSION, Texas — President Donald Trump is criticizing a privately built border wall in South Texas that was constructed by "We Build the Wall" - the same group responsible for a border wall along half-mile stretch of private land just outside El Paso in Sunland Park, New Mexico.
Trump said the group's wall in the Rio Grande Valley city of Mission is showing signs of erosion months after going up, saying it was “only done to make me look bad,” even though the wall was built after a months-long campaign by his supporters.
The group that raised money online for the wall promoted itself as supporting Trump during a government shutdown that started in December 2018 because Congress wouldn’t fund Trump's demands for a border wall. “We Build the Wall” has raised more than $25 million promoting itself as supporting the president.
Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon joined the group’s board and Trump ally Kris Kobach became its general counsel. Kobach is now seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Kansas.
The company that built the private section in January, North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, has since won a $1.3 billion border wall contract from the federal government, the largest award to date.
The section in question is a roughly 3-mile fence of steel posts just 35 feet from the Rio Grande, the river that forms the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. That’s much closer to the river than the government ordinarily builds border barriers in South Texas because of concerns about erosion and flooding that could violate U.S. treaty obligations with Mexico. Experts and people who live and work near the property have warned that building so close to the river would cause flooding or a break in the fence.
“When the river rises, it will likely attack those areas where the foundation is exposed, further weakening support of the fence and potentially causing portions ... to fall into the Rio Grande,” said Alex Mayer, a civil engineer professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has done research in the Rio Grande basin.
Victor Manjarrez, associate director for University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Law and Human Behavior, said he would never have built along the river’s edge.
“That is nuts,” said Manjarrez, a former El Paso sector chief for the Border Patrol, who spent years working along the Rio Grande. “You’re going to get all the hydrology problems and not even from a flood, just normal ebb and flow. ... If I was the sector chief and built something like that, I’d be in so much trouble.”
Trump tweeted in response to a ProPublica-Texas Tribune report that the riverbank has started to erode. A federal judge last week ordered attorneys for Fisher Industries and opponents of the private wall to set a schedule for experts to visit the site and inspect any erosion.
“I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads,” Trump wrote. “It was only done to make me look bad, and perhsps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles.”
Tommy Fisher, CEO of Fisher Industries, said that he thought the president “just got some misinformation on this stuff” and that he had “complete respect” for Trump.
Fisher acknowledged that there had been some erosion on the land in front of the fencing caused by rain and the natural flow of the river. He said his crews planned to install more organic material to fill the gaps or insert rock if erosion continues, but that other parts of the wall remained untouched.
“The wall will stand for 150 years, you mark my words,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s New Mexico and South Texas private fence projects have gone up with financial and political help from We Build the Wall and became a showcase for Fisher, who has promoted his company heavily on Fox News and conservative media. We Build the Wall ultimately provided about $1.5 million for the project and Kobach said in a previous court hearing that his group was mostly providing “social media cheerleading.” We Build the Wall’s founder, Brian Kolfage, did not return a phone message seeking comment.
In May, Fisher Industries won a $1.3 billion contract to build 42 miles of wall in Arizona. The wall will be painted black because “that’s what the president wanted, plain and simple,” said U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, in May. Cramer said then that he personally pitched the company to Trump.
Another $400 million contract Fisher won last year was placed under review by the defense department's inspector general.