Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told a podcast host on Tuesday that he would solicit donations from the public to fund the construction of Texas’ border wall.
Abbott said he would formally unveil the effort later this week and welcomed financial support from around the world.
“I will also be providing a link that you can click on and go to for everybody in the United States – really everybody in the entire world – who wants to help Texas build the border wall, there will be a place on there where they can contribute,” Abbott said during an interview on the podcast “Ruthless.”
The governor announced last week that Texas would begin building its own border wall after President Joe Biden stopped most construction of the barrier when he took office in January. The governor also said his state would step up its arrests of migrants illegally crossing the border.
“Only Congress and the president can fix our broken border,” Abbott said during a speech at border security conference in Del Rio. “But in the meantime, Texas is going to do everything possible, including beginning to make arrests, to keep our community safe.”
The governor provided few details about how he would collect and spend the donated money, but said it would go to a fund “overseen by the state of Texas in the governor’s office” and pledged “great transparency.”
A different effort to raise money to build the border wall ended in scandal. During Trump’s presidency, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage and former top Trump advisor Steve Bannon raised more than $25 million for a border wall fund Kolfage created called We Build the Wall. Bannon, Kolfage, and two of their associates were arrested and charged with fraud. Bannon was pardoned by Trump shortly before the ex-president left office.
Nestled on the banks of the Rio Grande, the Cavazos family’s land near Mission, Texas, has been passed down for three generations and weathered presidential administrations since Dwight Eisenhower.
Cousins Fred and Reynaldo “Rey” Cavazos learned to work the land as kids and their grandmother, Eloisa Rosa Garza Cavazos showed them how to sprout jalapeño, cilantro, and watermelon. Eloisa bought the land in the 1950s and made her grandchildren promise to never sell it and always to fight for it.
Their fathers taught them to hunt and live off of the near 60-acre spread of land.
However, a federal judge on Wednesday granted the government’s request for the immediate seizure of 6.6 acres of the Cavazos family land, and the Biden administration could roll in the bulldozers at any moment, breaking an early campaign promise.
The Cavazos family has resisted efforts, from President George W. Bush’s administration through President Donald Trump’s administration – and now under President Joe Biden – to give up their land for border wall construction.
For decades, Rey, and his cousins Lili and Fred, have been honoring the promise to their grandmother, dedicating themselves to the land.
In 2017, the Cavazos family was one of over a hundred South Texas families served an eminent domain lawsuit by the federal government, a legal process in which the government can seize private property for public use.
That move figured into the Trump administration’s aggressive fixation on beefing up the border wall, particularly in Texas. A government watchdog report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed that by July 2020, Trump’s administration had seized 135 tracts of private land, or 5,275 acres, for border wall construction.
Many of those cases, including that of the Cavazos family, lingered in court into the Biden administration.
The Cavazos family was hopeful because, in August 2020, then-candidate Biden told NPR that he would stop construction of the border wall, halt land confiscations and withdraw lawsuits – like the one served to the Cavazos.
“End. Stop. Done. Over. Not going to do it. Withdraw the lawsuits. We’re out. We’re not going to confiscate the land,” Biden told NPR.
Initially, the administration made a commitment that seemed to entertain that promise.
Biden issued a presidential proclamation on January 20 that called for an immediate pause on border wall construction, with a 60-day review period to lay out a plan for how to repurpose emergency border wall funding and determine whether land confiscations would move forward. The Department of Justice had an opportunity to withdraw the 140 land seizure cases that carried over from the Trump administration during or after the 60-day review period, as Biden had committed to doing on the campaign trail.
The White House quietly missed its deadline to produce the plan mentioned in the proclamation, and the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement saying a plan was still in the works.
“When the Administration took office, funds had been diverted from military construction and other appropriated purposes toward building the wall, and wall construction was being challenged in multiple lawsuits by plaintiffs who alleged that the construction was creating serious environmental and safety issues,” a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget told NBC News when the deadline passed. “Under those circumstances, Federal agencies are continuing to develop a plan to submit to the President soon.”
“The 60 days came and went,” Ricky Garza, an attorney representing the Cavazos family with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Insider.
And during that time frame, the Cavazos family’s hope soured into confusion and then frustration.
The Department of Justice did not move to dismiss the Cavazos lawsuit, but did motion to postpone a hearing until after the review was set to conclude in late March. A second extension request in the Cavazos case was not supported by the Department of Justice nor granted by the court, and on April 13, McAllen District Court Judge Micaela Alvarez granted the government its request for the immediate seizure of the Cavazos plot.
“We’re disappointed and saddened. We’re taking a wait and see approach, but we thought Biden was a man who would keep his word,” Rey Anzaldua Cavazos told Insider.
“This is what we warned would happen if the DOJ did not dismiss the cases. This is the consequence of inaction, and inaction at the wrong time can be violent,” Garza said. According to Garza, at least 114 of the land confiscation cases have moved forward since the president’s missed proclamation pause deadline, other cases that the government did not withdraw as well.
The White House, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland security did not respond to requests for comments.
Customs and Border Patrol told Insider in a statement that it has, “suspended real estate acquisition activities, such as surveys and negotiations with landowners, in accordance with the President’s Proclamation.”
In early April, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that “gaps” in border wall construction may need to be filled.
The Cavazos family, like many with family ties in the borderlands, say that the border crossed them.
Fred Cavazos, speaking to Insider over the warm buzz of crickets and birds along the Rio Grande, reminisced about younger days when they were not squarely in the middle of a political and militarized expansion of the border.
“We were freer then, we would enjoy ourselves more. If they put that wall up here, it will feel like we’re inside a prison. What did we do wrong?” Fred Cavazos told Insider.
“The land used to be 70 acres, and then the river took 5, and now they took 6.5 and, we’re down to about 59,” Fred said with a chuckle. “We have to learn to live with it.”
Rey is adamant that until they are served an official forfeiture notice, they will carry on as usual.
“We have an emotional attachment to this land, we’ve worked this land since we were children, money means very little to the family,” Rey said.
Garza said that revestment is a way forward for the Cavazos to retain their land, but the Department of Justice would need to be on board with the legal process to give the Cavazos family back their seized land.
And a clear direction has yet to be set out by the Biden administration in terms of the border wall, Rey lamented the constant whizzing of helicopters and said that with or without construction, they have been inserted into border security.
“One day I was sitting in front of Fred’s house and in a matter of fifteen minutes, I saw 20 law enforcement cars go by,” Rey explained, saying he counted at least seven distinct law enforcement agencies patrolling the border in south Texas.
“They’re throwing law enforcement at the wall, and they’re falling over each other.”
The news came after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas reportedly told colleagues that while the White House had frozen spending for wall projects, “that leaves room to make decisions as the administration, as part of the administration, in particular areas of the wall that need renovation, particular projects that need to be finished.”
He said that “gaps,” gates, and parts of the wall where technology had not yet been installed could still be built, the Washington Times reported. The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on Wednesday.
President Biden froze federal funding for wall construction on his first day in office and issued a 60-day moratorium in which he instructed officials to find a legal way to divert billions of dollars in funding that had been allocated for the wall, a deadline which has since passed.
When asked whether the administration did plan to plug “gaps” in the wall, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that most construction works had been paused but indicated that some for which funding had been allocated would continue.
“Wall construction remains paused, to the extent permitted by law,” Psaki said. “So some has already been funded through a congressional authorization and funding allocation. But as agencies develop for a plan – it’s paused while agencies are developing a plan for the President on the management of the federal funds.”
In late February, I drove to see the Trump wall in Sasabe, Arizona. As soon as I parked, a green-striped Border Patrol vehicle stationed a quarter of a mile away began to creep down the dirt road toward us. Just ahead, a dystopian “No Trespassing” sign was flapping in the wind.
It was cold as I stepped out of the car with my 5-year-old son, William. The wall ahead of us, 30-feet high with steel bollards, was indeed imposing as it quavered slightly in the wind. Through its bars we could see Mexico, a broken panorama of hills filled with mesquites backed by a blue sky.
The Homeland Security vehicle soon pulled up next to us. An agent rolled down his window and asked me, “What are you doing? Joyriding?”
After I laughed in response to a word I hadn’t heard in years, the agent informed us that we were in a dangerous construction zone, even if this part of the wall had been built four months earlier. I glanced around. There were no bulldozers, excavators, or construction equipment of any sort. I wondered whether the lack of machinery reflected the campaign promise of the recently inaugurated Joe Biden that “not another foot” of Trump’s wall would be built.
Indeed, that was why I was here – to see what the border looked like as the post-Trump era began. President Biden had started his term with strong promises to reverse the border policies of his predecessor: families torn apart would be reunited and asylum seekers previously forced to stay in Mexico allowed to enter the United States. Given the Trump years, the proposals of the new administration sounded almost revolutionary.
And yet something else bothered me as we drove away: Everything looked the same as it had for years. I’ve been coming to this stretch of border since 2001. I’ve witnessed its incremental disfigurement during the most dramatic border fortification period in this country’s history.
In the early 2000s came an influx of Border Patrol agents, followed in 2007 by the construction of a 15-foot wall (that Sen. Joe Biden voted for), followed by high-tech surveillance towers, courtesy of a multibillion-dollar contract with the Boeing Corporation.
Believe me, the forces that shaped our southern border over the decades have been far more powerful than Donald Trump or any individual politician. During the 2020 election, it was commonly asserted that, by getting rid of Trump, the United States would create a more humane border and immigration system. And there was a certain truth to that, but a distinctly limited one.
Underneath the theater of partisan politics, there remains a churning border-industrial complex, a conjunction of entrenched interests and relationships between the US government – particularly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – and private corporations that has received very little attention.
The small border town of Sasabe and its surrounding region is a microcosm of this.
The cumulative force of that complex will now carry on in Trump’s wake. Indeed, during the 2020 election the border industry, created through decades of bipartisan fortification, actually donated more money to the Biden campaign and the Democrats than to Trump and the Republicans.
In the 12 years from 2008 to 2020, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dolled out 105,000 contracts, or a breathtaking average of 24 contracts a day, worth $55 billion to private contractors. That sum exceeded their $52 billion collective budgets for border and immigration enforcement for the 28 years from 1975 to 2003.
While those contracts included ones for companies like Fisher Sand and Gravel that built the 30-foot wall my son and I saw in Sasabe, many of them – including the most expensive – went to companies creating high-tech border fortification, ranging from sophisticated camera systems to advanced biometric and data-processing technologies.
This might explain the border industry’s interest in candidate Biden, who promised: “I’m going to make sure that we have border protection, but it’s going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it.”
Behind that bold, declarative sentence lay an all-too-familiar version of technological border protection sold as something so much more innocuous, harmless, and humane than what Trump was offering. As it happens, despite our former president’s urge to create a literal wall across hundreds of miles of borderlands, high-technology has long been and even in the Trump years remained a large part of the border-industrial complex.
One pivotal moment for that complex came in 2005 when the deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Jackson (previously Lockheed Martin’s chief operating officer), addressed a conference room of border-industry representatives about creating a virtual or technological wall.
“This is an unusual invitation,” he said then. “I want to make sure you have it clearly, that we’re asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business. We’re asking you. We’re inviting you to tell us how to run our organization.”
Of course, by then, the border and immigration enforcement system had already been on a growth spurt. During President Bill Clinton’s administration (1993-2001), for example, its annual budgets had nearly tripled from $1.5 billion to $4.3 billion.
Clinton, in fact, initiated the immigration deterrence system still in place today in which Washington deployed armed agents, barriers, and walls, as well as high-tech systems to block the traditional urban places where immigrants had once crossed. They were funneled instead into dangerous and deadly spots like the remote and brutal Arizona desert around Sasabe. As Clinton put it in his 1995 State of the Union address:
“[O]ur administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens.”
The Clinton years, however, already seemed like ancient times when Jackson made that 2005 plea. He was speaking in the midst of a burgeoning Homeland Security era. After all, DHS was only created in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
In fact, during George W. Bush’s years in office, border and immigration enforcement budgets grew from $4.2 billion in 2000 to $15.2 billion in 2008 – more, that is, than during any other presidency including Donald Trump’s. Under Bush, that border became another front in the war on terror (even if no terrorists crossed it), opening the money faucets. And that was what Jackson was underscoring – the advent of a new reality that would produce tens of thousands of contracts for private companies.
In addition, as US war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq began to wane, many security and defense companies pivoted toward the new border market. As one vendor pointed out to me at a Border Security Expo in Phoenix in 2012, “We are bringing the battlefield to the border.” That vendor, who had been a soldier in Afghanistan a few years earlier, smiled confidently, the banners of large weapons-makers like Raytheon hanging above him.
At the time (as now), an “unprecedented boom period” was forecast for the border market. As the company VisionGain explained then, a “virtuous circle … would continue to drive spending in the long-term based on three interlocking developments: ‘illegal immigration and terrorist infiltration,’ more money for border policing in ‘developing countries,’ and the ‘maturation’ of new technologies.”
Since 9/11, border-security corporate giants became big campaign contributors not only to presidential candidates, but also to key members of the Appropriations Committees and the Homeland Security Committees (both House and Senate) – all crucial when it came to border policies, contracts, and budgets.
By the time Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017, the border-industrial complex was truly humming. That year, he would oversee a $20 billion border and immigration budget and have at his disposal nearly 20,000 Border Patrol agents (up from 4,000 in 1994), 650 miles of already built walls and barriers, billions of dollars in border technology then in place, and more than 200 immigration-detention centers across the United States.
He claimed he was going to build his very own “big, fat, beautiful wall,” most of which, as it turned out, already existed. He claimed that he was going to clamp down on a border that was already remarkably clamped down upon. And in his own fashion, he took it to new levels.
That’s what we saw in Sasabe, where a 15-foot wall had recently been replaced with a 30-foot wall. As it happened, much of the 450 miles of wall the Trump administration did, in the end, build really involved interchanging already existing smaller barriers with monstrous ones that left remarkable environmental and cultural destruction in their wake.
Trump administration policies forced people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico, infants to appear in immigration court, and separated family members into a sprawling incarceration apparatus whose companies had been making up to $126 per person per day for years. He could have done little of this without the constantly growing border-industrial complex that preceded him and, in important ways, made him.
Nonetheless, in the 2020 election campaign, the border industry pivoted toward Biden and the Democrats. That pivot ensured one thing: that its influence would be strong, if not preeminent, on such issues when the new administration took over.
The Biden years begin at the border
In early January 2021, Biden’s nominee to run DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas disclosed that, over the previous three years, he had earned $3.3 million from corporate clients with the WilmerHale law firm.
Two of those clients were Northrop Grumman and Leidos, companies that Nick Buxton and I identified as top border contractors in “Biden’s Border: The Industry, the Democrats and the 2020 Election,” a report we coauthored for the Transnational Institute.
When we started to look at the 2020 campaign contributions of 13 top border contractors for CBP and ICE, we had no idea what to expect. It was, after all, a corporate group that included producers of surveillance infrastructure for the high-tech “virtual wall” along the border like L3Harris, General Dynamics, and the Israeli company Elbit Systems; others like Palantir and IBM produced border data-processing software; and there were also detention companies like CoreCivic and GeoGroup.
To our surprise, these companies had given significantly more to the Biden campaign ($5,364,994) than to Trump ($1,730,435). In general, they had shifted to the Democrats who garnered 55% of their $40 million in campaign contributions, including donations to key members of the House and Senate Appropriations and Homeland Security committees.
It’s still too early to assess just what will happen to this country’s vast border-and-immigration apparatus under the Biden administration, which has made promises about reversing Trumpian border policies. Still, it will be no less caught in the web of the border-industrial complex than the preceding administration.
Perhaps a glimpse of the future border under Biden was offered when, on January 19, Homeland Security secretary nominee Mayorkas appeared for his Senate confirmation hearings and was asked about the 8,000 people from Honduras heading for the US in a “caravan” at that very moment.
The day before, US-trained troops and police in Guatemala had thwarted and then deported vast numbers of them as they tried to cross into that country. Many in the caravan reported that they were heading north thanks to back-to-back catastrophic category 4 hurricanes that had devastated the Honduran and Nicaraguan coasts in November 2020.
Mayorkas responded rather generically that if people were found to qualify “under the law to remain in the United States, then we will apply the law accordingly, if they do not qualify to remain in the United States, then they won’t.” Given that there is no climate-refugee status available to anyone crossing the border that meant most of those who finally made it (if they ever did) wouldn’t qualify to stay.
It’s possible that, by the time I went to see that wall with my son in late February, some people from that caravan had already made it to the border, despite endless obstacles in their path. As we drove down Highway 286, also known as the Sasabe Road, there were reports of undocumented people from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico all traveling through the rugged Baboquivari mountain range to the west of us and the grim canyons to the east of us in attempts to avoid the Border Patrol and its surveillance equipment.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans against what he dubbed “the military-industrial complex” in 1961, he spoke of its “total influence – economic, political, even spiritual… felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the Federal government.”
Sixty years later, something similar could be said of the ever-expanding border-industrial complex. It needs just such climate disasters and just such caravans (or, as we’re seeing right now, just such “crises” of unaccompanied minors) to continue its never-ending growth, whether the president is touting a big, fat, beautiful wall or opting for high-tech border technology.
For my son and me, the enforcement apparatus first became noticeable at a checkpoint 25 miles north of the international boundary. Not only were green-uniformed agents interrogating passengers in any vehicle heading northward, but a host of cameras focused on the vehicles passing by.
Whether they were license-plate readers or facial-recognition cameras I had no way of knowing.
What I did know was that Northrop Grumman (which contributed $649,748 to Joe Biden and $323,014 to Donald Trump in the 2020 election campaign) had received a valuable contract to ensure that CBP’s biometric system included “modalities” of all sorts – face and voice data, iris recognition, scars and tattoos, possibly even DNA sample collection, and information about “relationship patterns” and “encounters” with the public.
And who could tell if the Predator B drones that General Atomics produces – oh, by the way, that company gave $82,974 to Biden and $51,665 to Trump in 2020 – were above us (as they regularly are in the border regions) using Northrup Grumman’s VADER “man-hunting” radar system first deployed in Afghanistan?
As we traveled through that gauntlet, Border Patrol vehicles were everywhere, reinforcing the surveillance apparatus that extends 100 miles into the US interior. We soon passed a surveillance tower at the side of the road first erected by the Boeing Corporation and renovated by Elbit Systems ($5,553 to Biden, $5,649 to Trump), one of dozens in the area.
On the other side of that highway was a gravel clearing where a G4S ($49,233 to Biden, $33,019 to Trump) van usually idles. It’s a mobile prison the Border Patrol uses to transport its prisoners to short-term detention centers in Tucson. And keep in mind that there was so much we couldn’t see like the thousands of implanted motion sensors manufactured by a host of other companies.
Traveling through this border area, it’s hard not to feel like you’re in a profitable version of a classic panopticon, a prison system in which, wherever you might be, you’re being watched. Even 5-year-old William was startled by such a world and, genuinely puzzled, asked me, “Why do the green men,” as he calls the Border Patrol, “want to stop the workers?”
By the time we got to that shard of Trump’s “big, fat, beautiful” wall, it seemed like just a modest part of a much larger system that left partisan politics in the dust. At its heart was never “The Donald” but a powerful cluster of companies with an active interest in working on that border until the end of time.
Just after the agent told us that we were in a construction zone and needed to leave, I noticed a pile of bollards near the dirt road that ran parallel to the wall. They were from the previous wall, the one Biden had voted for in 2006.
As William and I drove back to Tucson through that gauntlet of inspection, I wondered what the border-industrial world would look like when he was my age and living in what could be an even more extreme world filled with ever more terrified people fleeing disaster.
And I kept thinking of that discarded pile of bollards, a reminder of just how easy it would be to tear that wall and the world that goes with it down.
President Joe Biden’s administration has blown through a 60-day deadline by which it said it would figure out a plan for former President Donald Trump’s border wall.
Biden signed a proclamation on January 20, his first day in office, ordering work to stop within seven days. From that point onwards, almost all border wall construction has been on pause.
The pause provided 60 days for the administration to come up with a plan for repurposing the multi-billion-dollar contracts signed by Trump officials with various construction companies.
The 60 days was also meant to be enough time to find legal ways for border wall funding to be redirected to other projects.
The 60th day was Saturday March 20, which passed with no plan. Officials told Insider than they would figure it out “soon,” citing ongoing legal cases as a possible cause for the delay.
A spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget – one of the agencies overseeing the project – said in a statement:
“When the Administration took office, funds had been diverted from military construction and other appropriated purposes toward building the wall, and wall construction was being challenged in multiple lawsuits by plaintiffs who alleged that the construction was creating serious environmental and safety issues.
“Under those circumstances, Federal agencies are continuing to develop a plan to submit to the President soon.”
The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for a more specific timeline.
David J. Bier, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, correctly predicted that the deadline would likely be extended.
Citing his conversations with administration officials, he said that the wall was simply not the focus while the Biden administration faces a major surge in border crossings.
“No one is saying anything about the border wall being some kind of solution to what’s happening,” Bier told Insider at the time. “No one is thinking ‘if only we finished the fence.’ Everyone is focused on: ‘How do we deal with the people who we process?'”
A surge at the border
On Sunday, Department of Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas faced questions about the thousands of unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the US.
As Susan Rice, Biden’s domestic policy adviser put it to The Post, “We’re basically having to build the plane as we’re flying.”
It’s not clear whether gaps or weaknesses in the incomplete border wall have contributed to the surge. Some people near the border have said that work under Trump did not make the border more secure, and has at times been counterproductive.
Laiken Jordahl, a campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, has called for the complete restoration of formerly protected borderlands ruined by wall construction.
He told Insider last week that people smuggling can be facilitated by access roads cut by construction companies, a legacy of the wall’s construction.
“Whether or not the wall is built is largely irrelevant as we continually see people vault over the wall in a matter of seconds,” he told Insider last week.
And it appears that the border wall – whether it will eventually be left untended, completed, or torn down – will remain in limbo for the foreseeable future.
That 60-day pause is due to expire this weekend, with few clues as to what will happen next. In the meantime, the Biden administration has been struggling to handle a surge in crossings.
While the pause has pleased anti-wall campaigners, the limbo is unsatisfying on either side of the political divide.
Prominent Republicans have slammed Biden for the surge at the border, blaming gaps in the wall. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a Monday press conference: “This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.”
Speaking to Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Tuesday night, Trump claimed that the wall could have been finished “in a month,” saying “the wall was almost complete.”
Around 453 miles of wall was completed during Trump’s four years in office, leaving more than 1,000 miles to go and little prospect of quick completion.
It is not clear whether the crossing flagged by Arizona are part of the broader surge at the US border. A large proportion of recent crossings appear to be taking place over the Rio Grande in Texas, the Associated Press reported.
But anti-wall campaigners have long predicted that wall construction in Arizona would worsen security there.
Half-finished walls with access roads
While much of the completed wall runs uninterrupted along Arizona’s flat plains, construction is much more challenging in the state’s mountainous areas, such as Guadelupe Canyon.
Here, tons of dynamite were in use to blast roads into mountains just for machinery to reach the build site.
In some places, ravines were blasted straight through the natural barrier of mountains, only for the wall to stop short at the bottom. In other areas, segments of border wall stand unfinished, with roads leading up to them over previously impassable terrain.
Clark told The New York Times of one ranch manager who had moved home after a break-in, the sort of crime that was previously rare.
As campaigners have repeatedly told Insider, these remote, rugged parts of Arizona were never a priority for border security.
In January, campaigners in Arizona told Insider that the situation was making border security worse – especially with the expectation that the work would soon stop incomplete.
Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, told Insider in a statement at the time: “Trump and CBP are so blindly obsessed by their shiny steel wall that they’ve entirely failed to consider how blasting roads into wilderness areas gives smugglers new avenues to cross the border.”
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told Insider at the time that the work was not harming border security.
Photographer John Darwin Kurc, who has spent the last two years documenting the process at the border, told Insider in January that he had also seen an increase in CBP responses in Guadelupe Canyon.
“I’ve sat many, many, many hours in this area and never saw Border Patrol,” he said. “And now you see them all the time down at the Guadalupe Canyon ranch, because they have to be there.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is contemplating bringing a state court case against former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, The Washington Post reported.
The news comes weeks after former President Donald Trump issued a last-minute pardon for Bannon just hours before President Joe Biden was inaugurated. Federal prosecutors accused Bannon and three others of defrauding donors out of $25 million in fundraising campaign for the US-Mexico border wall via their We Build the Wall nonprofit.
Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes, not state or local cases. Bannon was among more than 140 individuals who Trump granted clemency or commutations in his final 24 hours in office.
Investigators under District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. are in “early-stage discussions” in bringing state charges against Bannon for his involvement in the fundraising fraud, according to The Post report.
The former Trump strategist and three others were charged at the federal level with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering related to the border wall fundraising campaign. He was arrested in August of last year in Westbrook, Connecticut, and pleaded not guilty.
“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.”
Kolfage, along with We Build the Wall cofounders Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, did not receive a pardon from the former president.
Insider’s footage shows that did continue in the opening moments of his administration – consistent with reports that blasting had been going ahead at an accelerated pace in the last weeks of Trump’s term.
In that time contractors rushed to meet a target of finishing 450 miles of wall by the end of the year. On Inauguration Day, they appeared determined to keep going to the last moment.
Much of the work has been futile, campaigners have told Insider. Hundreds of tons of explosive have been used to blast paths through rocky, inaccessible areas of Arizona to make space for a wall that wouldn’t be built on time.
In December, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which oversees wall contracts, said that contractors could be expected to continue work until told to stop.
Kurc, the photographer who recorded the Inauguration Day blasting, has been documenting the process for more than a year. He described the recent weeks of activity as “busywork.”
In the last year, a line has been cut through mountain ranges along the whole of Arizona, he told Insider, wrecking the landscape for little gain.
Environmental campaigners such as Laiken Jordahl, who works with the Center for Biological Diversity, called the impact of the construction “an existential threat” to endangered wildlife in the region that was once strictly protected.
Native American communities such as the Todono O’odham have seen sacred lands destroyed for construction, an act that tribal leader Ned Norris told Congress was “like building a 30-foot wall through Arlington Cemetery.”
Gan Golan, a community organizer working with the No Border Wall Coalition of Laredo, Texas, told Insider that Trump had put wall construction into “overdrive” since losing the election.
“His goal was to put as much in place as possible to make it harder for Biden to stop it,” he said.
“And of course the contractors were trying to spend as much of the taxpayer’s money as they possibly could before they feared they had to stop construction … And that means that every day counts, that’s why the day one declaration to halt construction is so important.”