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Brian Kolfage, We Build The Wall founder, speaks at a press conference Thursday, May 30, in Sunland Park, New Mexico.
El Paso Times

Javier Perea, mayor of Sunland Park, New Mexico, and his administration, had a relatively peaceful Memorial Day weekend.

When they got back to work, they were flooded with messages and calls from across the United States alleging the city’s involvement in cartels and pushing them to approve the construction of a border fence.

A group called “We Build the Wall,” had quickly erected part of a 20-foot tall fence along a mountainside at the edge of the city’s limits. Construction of the fence quickly thrust the quiet southern New Mexico town of 14,407 into the national spotlight when the fence’s builders began touting it as the first privately built barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.

When the city halted construction of the fence to evaluate its laws, “We Build the Wall,” founder Brian Kolfage began tweeting that the city was corrupt and sounded an alarm that the project was being stopped, prompting thousands to flood the city’s lines.

A caller the next day alleged the city was involved in organized crime before threatening to kill Perea and his family, according to the city’s Chief of Police Javier Guerra. The call came from a line that could not be traced, Guerra said.

Perea had police patrol near his home periodically to ensure his safety, according to Guerra. 

“It’s a cheap blow to the city of Sunland Park,” Perea said. “I’ve been called a spick, I’ve been called a mother****er. But I am not going to stoop to that level. I am not going there.” 

“We Build the Wall,” was started by Kolfage, a U.S. Air Force veteran, and is being led by a group that includes Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, and former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

They argue a wall will help deter migrants from crossing the southwest border.

American Eagle, which owns the property hosting the fence, operates against Mount Cristo Rey,  a religious site for Catholic faithful, and sits on a boundary between three states and two countries. Monument One, a federal marker, demonstrates the boundaries near the business’ property. 

The quick construction evaded a weeks-long process where projects like fencing and erecting walls are vetted by the city’s plan commission. Depending on the size of the project, the commission is able to hear opinions from the public and developer before they make a recommendation to the City Council to vote on.

MORE: Why did Sunland Park allow for approval of private border wall? Residents want answers

Kobach, general counsel for “We Build the Wall,” claims the nonprofit first arrived in Sunland Park on April 6 and that it took 57 days for the project to come into fruition. Contractors constructed the bollard-type fence over the Memorial Day Weekend and announced it the day of the holiday. 

The project was briefed to U.S. President Donald Trump, Kobach claimed.

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“He has told me several times, that he 100 percent endorses what “We Build the Wall,” is doing,” Kobach said during a news conference in front of the newly built fence. 

Carmen Marquez, who has lived in Sunland Park for decades, said she was surprised to see that a group had built a private border fence. It cast a bad light on the city, she added. She said she is worried how her city is being perceived and calls it ‘filthy,’ how We Build the Wall treated Sunland Park. 

“They (We Build the Wall) don’t care,” she said. 

But those who have spoken in favor of the wall feel just the opposite. When construction of the wall resumed, several “Angel Families” spoke at a news conference. Mary Ann Mendoza, an advisory board member of We Build the Wall, spoke about the loss of her son, Brandon Mendoza, who was killed in 2014 by a drunk driver who was in the U.S. illegally.

“My son’s life was snuffed out in 2014 by a drunk repeat illegal alien criminal who was allowed to stay in our country,” Mary Ann Mendoza said at the news conference. “We are all in support for legal immigration. Illegal immigration is what we don’t accept. It is a criminal act in itself and we need to stop the flow. This (the wall) is a beautiful thing and has affected every Angel Family.”

MORE:Why a Texas boy says he raised $22,000 for GoFundMe border wall by selling hot chocolate

Robert Ardovino, co-owner of Ardovino’s Desert Crossing restaurant on the other side of the mountain where the fence was built, said it’s frustrating that national politics are playing out in the city. 

“Somehow, with a quick influx of money, things can get built and questions can get asked after the fact,” he said. “Environmentally, ecologically, it’s sad to see another permanent scar placed on Mount Cristo Rey. It’s a natural, beautiful mountain and unfortunately what’s happening on that side of it is more and more destruction.”

A federal fence built by the George W. Bush administration is in his restaurant’s backyard. Migrants and border patrol alike find themselves walking near his property — sometimes agents on horseback patrol through his parking lot. 

He said his restaurant and the nearby area is a peaceful place where many come to enjoy a meal and create memories. There is no sense of danger and there aren’t individuals walking around with guns, he added.

“In the 25 years that I’ve been here, the only armed people that have been around me are these so-called militia,” he said.

Armed members of the United Constitutional Patriots set up a border camp to monitor migrant crossings in April less than a mile away from Ardovino’s. They detained a group of more than 300 migrants who crossed the border through a gap in the fence, drawing ire from the ACLU of New Mexico.

The group was told to leave its site because they were trespassing on railroad and city property.

Aaron Montes may be reached at 546-6137; amontes@elpasotimes.com; @aaronmontes91 on Twitter.

Want more on the GoFundMe border wall? We’ve got you covered.

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