SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — Construction of the privately-funded border barrier that began in this small desert town over the Memorial Day weekend has been given the green light by city leadership after they abruptly halted construction for lack of compliance just two days ago.
But the mayor said the project still needs to be in full compliance before it's completed and builders could face fines if it's not up to code.
The barrier costs nearly $8 million that was raised through a GoFundMe page, according to the group We Build the Wall. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon are listed on the group’s website as part of the leadership team. Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage started the organization.
After the group completed most of the project — more than a half-mile of metal wall on land owned by a brick company a few miles from downtown El Paso — city leaders issued a cease-and-desist letter, saying the proper permits had not been issued before the project began.
But on Thursday, Mayor Javier Perea said the city issued two permits for lighting and construction of the barrier. He added that builders still need to receive a grading permit to ensure complete compliance.
“We’ve reached out [and told them] that we will be in communication and they will have to come into compliance with all city ordinances,” he said. “With the release of those [lighting and construction] permits, there is no cease and desist order.”
Perea said some of the current ordinances will likely be reviewed to ensure future projects are up to code. But he added that the city was taken by surprise.
“Some words got minced and I think they took as a go-ahead for the entire project so they continued with it,” Perea said. “They got 80 percent complete over the Memorial Day weekend. That’s not how it usually works.”
“It’s a problem that was thrust upon us and in a community with limited resources, you cannot move as fast,” he said.
Perea said that city inspectors were turned away at the construction site Thursday, but Kolbach and Kolfage have contended since last week that the project was in full compliance with current standards and that inspectors visited the site Friday and gave them the green light.
On Thursday morning, Kobach said he’d continue to work with the city but that he never believed the project was in jeopardy.
“We had done our homework long before we began this project and our homework was correct. We had about a 36-hour delay [after the cease-and-desist order]. Our hope is that in two days we’ll be up there where we would have otherwise been right now,” he said, pointing to the high point on the mountain where construction of the fence will end.
Kolfage said the group has at least 10 sites that have been scouted and could be next in line for a similar project.
“That’s our mission. We want to have the largest impact,” he said. “We mapped out every single property owner on the southern border.”
Kobach said earlier in the week those sites include border land in Texas and California, though he didn’t offer specifics.
Even with the permit issue seemingly settled, the construction has cast a pall over this small border town after some supporters of the project took to the phone lines to threaten the mayor and his staff and family after the cease and desist order came down.
“I personally have received death threats over the last couple days. We have increased law enforcement presence over the last few days,” Perea said, adding that people have attacked him with racial slurs.
Some of the group’s leaders, including Kolfage himself, have taken to Twitter to suggest that Sunland Park officials are aiding Mexican criminal groups.
“So Sunland Park officials support open borders, the sex slaves and illegal drugs coming into their communities?!” he tweeted. “Sounds like they are quite sympathetic with the Mexican cartels ideology. AMERICA FIRST! Not Mexican cartels!”
Perea acknowledged members of the city’s previous leadership have been in trouble before, including criminal charges of extortion, bribery and fraud against some city leaders in 2012. But he said the current social media attacks on him and other current officials are nothing more than cheap shots.
“I’ve been called a lot of things, but I am not going to stoop to that level,” he said.