EL PASO, Texas—A particular half-mile of new border fencing has brought significant meaning to many Americans that the existing 654 miles don’t hold.
It was built from donations that started pouring in late last year, when combat veteran Brian Kolfage set up a GoFundMe account after Congress failed to appropriate the amount President Donald Trump requested for a border barrier.
As the first piece was being completed in a high cross-border crime area near El Paso, Texas, several Angel families—those whose loved ones have been killed by illegal immigrants—traveled to Sunland Park, New Mexico, to see it for themselves.
Michelle Balogh, the sister of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, said the new wall symbolizes “security for our country, for our agents, for us Americans.”
Terry was killed in a shootout in 2010, while attempting to arrest five illegal aliens near Nogales, Arizona.
“They were here to do harm,” Balogh said. “I’m not saying that every illegal comes over here to do harm, but there’s a lot of criminal, illegal aliens that come here to commit crime, kill our Americans, and get away with it.”
She said seeing the new wall is “bittersweet” and that Terry would be “absolutely ecstatic” to see it. “It’ll be protecting his brothers in green.”
In January, Kolfage set up the nonprofit We Build the Wall, which has raised $23 million so far. The half-mile just completed cost about $8 million, with much of the cost due to the extensive earthworks required to build up the side of Mount Cristo Rey. The steepest incline sits at 31 percent.
We Build the Wall board member Kris Kobach said that Border Patrol agents told him that an average of 100 illegal aliens and an average $100,000 in drugs crossed the half-mile section every day.
‘She Didn’t Die in Vain’
Michelle Root’s daughter Sarah was killed in January 2016, the night of her university graduation.
“She was rear-ended by Edwin Mejia, who was street racing; a 19-year-old illegal alien that came over unaccompanied at age 16 in 2013,” Root said. “His blood alcohol was 0.241, he was going 70-plus miles an hour, plowed into the back of my daughter’s SUV, severed her spine, caused her to be brain-dead, and therefore, took her life.”
Root said the new fence means Sarah didn’t die in vain.
“This wall means the world to me,” she said. “It reignites the fire within me to see what can be done. And to see that private citizens—American citizens—donated to this, and we have wonderful people working on it. Things our government couldn’t do, us American people could come together and do.”
Kolfage said the average donation was $67 and that $2 million was raised purely with $5 donations.
“I realized that everyone can have an impact and if you think you can’t have an impact, then you’re wrong, because everyone who donated had a big impact,” he said.
Donations started rolling in again over Memorial Day weekend, as word of the construction spread. Kolfage said more than $1 million was raised in a couple of days.
One of Kolfage’s biggest donors was a 7-year-old boy from Austin, Texas. Benton Stevens set up a hot chocolate stand and donation website over the winter, raising $22,000 for the wall.
Stevens helped Kolfage cut the ceremonial ribbon for the wall on May 30. He said he raised the money because “Trump really wanted the wall built, because all the illegal immigrants were coming in and bringing drugs and stuff.”
Stevens has a lemonade stand planned for summer, with a goal of raising $50,000.
Bobby and Kiyan Michael traveled from Jacksonville, Florida, to be at the official opening.
“We’re here as Angel parents, because losing a child to illegal immigration is a loss that’s totally preventable,” Kiyan said. “And for us to be able to come and witness this wall going up, knowing that it will save lives, knowing that it will save other parents from experiencing what we’ve experienced—it means a lot to us, it means everything to us.”
The Michaels recently testified before their state Legislature to help prevent Florida from becoming a sanctuary state.
“It makes our fight that we do every day, day in and day out … it makes it have meaning,” Kiyan said. “This is America’s wall built by Americans, for Americans, to keep Americans safe.”
Bobby said he was impressed with not just the wall, but the technology, lighting, sensors, and road that come with it. A surveillance tower at the top of the hill will allow agents to see 15 to 20 miles in any direction.
“All of this is one complete package,” he said. “God bless America.”
Mike Furey, the director of construction operations for We Build the Wall, said the materials used by Fisher Industries for the construction are of superior quality.
“We’re using 75- to 100-year steel. It’s a higher grade of carbon. We’re not using the 25- to 35-year steel,” he said. The fence stands about 20 feet above ground and the steel slats are about 4 inches apart.
“And when we go into the ground, we go in approximately 7 feet. And those same [fence] panels that are held by the excavators, they get locked in by the concrete, and we pour in a 4,000 PSI slump [that] dries in two hours. So the wall is permanently affixed. There’s no footer poured and then placed in or on top—we actually pour around the bollards.”
Furey said that inside each bollard is 10 feet of concrete as well as two pieces of 1.25-inch hardened rebar.
“So if anybody does get to the wall, past the sensors, they have to cut through the first high carbon steel, which will take approximately a half-hour,” he said. “Then they have to get through the concrete and then they have to get through the rebar. It’s an impossible task.”
Underground sensors will detect movement within 40 feet of the wall and notify Border Patrol, as well as trigger audio and visual deterrence features. Furey said the sensors can tell the difference between a rabbit, a human, a small truck, and a large vehicle. They can also detect seismic activity, in case someone tries to tunnel underneath.
The paved road next to the wall is one of the biggest bonuses to Border Patrol, who used to take up to 20 minutes to get to the top of Mount Cristo Rey on a bumpy, winding gravel road. Now, agents can get to the top of the hill in less than 30 seconds.
“We’ve actually, literally, in this first half-mile, going up a 31 percent grade, and have cut off 19 drug trails, walking trails, and trafficking trails,” Furey said.
He said the first day he got to the site, on May 22, at 10 p.m., an Army helicopter was hovering without lights about 200 feet above them on what would become the construction site.
“The landowner said, ‘Watch this,’” Furey said. “And the Army turned the helicopter lights on and there had to be 300 people running in every direction, right on the property. … It was like a Bugs Bunny movie. They were running everywhere. It was crazy.”
Furey said that as the equipment and workers rolled in over the next few days, the number of illegal aliens reduced to 250, 70, 30, and then, zero.
As the fence was being completed, Kolfage sent out a tweet, saying 15 armed cartel members had approached the wall and intimidated the construction crew.
Kolfage said the group plans to keep building as long as funding allows. “We have made a list of every single landowner on the U.S. border, and we have constantly been going down the list and making contact with each one, networking and figuring out who fits the mold for what we want to do,” he said. “Currently, we have about 10 properties in the pipeline after this.”
Tommy Fisher, president and CEO of Fisher Industries, which constructed the wall, said he has a different design in mind for the Rio Grande Valley, where the river acts as the international border.
“We can build a flood wall along with border protection,” Fisher said. “We can actually clean the river, build a back-filled wall, give the agents an elevated view, and build something that will last 150 years.”
Fisher said he was told by the Army Corps of Engineers that a fence couldn’t be built up the 310 vertical feet of Mount Cristo Rey, where the fence was just completed.
“I believe in my heart that I can outbuild the U.S. government,” Fisher said. “Out of all the great jobs Fisher’s done over the 25 years that I’ve run the company, this has probably been the most challenging, the highest quality, with the fastest speed we’ve ever done.”
Sunland Park city officials stopped construction for about 30 hours on May 29, as lawyers worked out permitting issues the city brought up. We Build the Wall had a building permit for the wall, a building permit for the cement pedestals that the lights stand upon, and a grading permit.
Kobach said a permanent easement for 24/7 access and control of the property has been given to the U.S. government, but if Homeland Security wanted a full title transfer, that would happen.
“We aren’t trying to tell the Border Patrol what to do. Our objective is to simply give them this gift and let them decide what to do with it,” he said.