Category Archives: Border security

Texas’ Governor Brags About His Border Initiative. The Data Doesn’t Back Him Up.

Photo illustration by John Whitlock for ProPublica/The Texas Tribune/The Marshall Project. Source images: Michael Gonzalez for The Texas Tribune, Verónica G. Cárdenas for ProPublica/The Texas Tribune, Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Thomas King-Randall had been waiting for two hours to drop his daughters off at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment in Midland, Texas. It was 10:30 on a school night in August and it was her turn to care for the two girls.

The ex-girlfriend showed up drunk and was arguing with her new boyfriend in his truck, police later wrote in a report. King-Randall, who is Black, said in an interview that the woman’s Latino boyfriend called him a racial slur, which led to a fight.

By the end of the encounter, the woman’s boyfriend had a bloody nose and swollen eyes. King-Randall was gone, and local police issued an arrest warrant for the 26-year-old California native. A month later, Texas Department of Public Safety officers arrested King-Randall when he tried to renew his driver’s license.

King-Randall’s arrest was one of thousands used to bolster claims of success for Operation Lone Star. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched the initiative last March, citing an urgent need to stop the flow of drugs and undocumented immigrants into the state through Mexico.

But the alleged assault had nothing to do with the border. King-Randall, a U.S. citizen, was arrested more than 250 miles from the border with Mexico. Neither DPS nor the Texas Military Department, the state agencies carrying out Operation Lone Star, played a role in the investigation. And the family violence assault charge King-Randall faced wasn’t linked to border-related crime or illegal immigration.

Operation Lone Star has helped increase the state’s budget for border security to more than $3 billion through 2023 by deploying thousands of DPS troopers and National Guard members and allocating funding to build border barriers. As part of the operation, troopers are also arresting some immigrant men crossing into the U.S. on state criminal trespassing charges.

Abbott and DPS have repeatedly boasted in news conferences, on social media and during interviews on Fox News that the border operation has disrupted drug and human smuggling networks. A year into the operation, officials touted more than 11,000 criminal arrests, drug seizures that amount to millions of “lethal doses” and the referrals of tens of thousands of unauthorized immigrants to the federal government for deportation as signs that the program is effective.

But the state’s claim of success has been based on shifting metrics that included crimes with no connection to the border, work conducted by troopers stationed in targeted counties prior to the operation, and arrest and drug seizure efforts that do not clearly distinguish DPS’s role from that of other agencies, an investigation by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and The Marshall Project found.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

Privately built border wall will fail, engineering report says

The 3-mile border fence along the shore of the Rio Grande will fail during extreme flooding, according to an engineering report that is set to be filed in federal court this week. Credit: Brenda Bazán for The Texas Tribune.

It’s not a matter of if a privately built border fence along the shores of the Rio Grande will fail, it’s a matter of when, according to a new engineering report on the troubled project.

The report is one of two new studies set to be filed in federal court this week that found numerous deficiencies in the 3-mile border fence, built this year by North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel. The reports confirm earlier reporting from ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, which found that segments of the structure were in danger of overturning due to extensive erosion if not fixed and properly maintained. Fisher dismissed the concerns as normal post-construction issues.

Donations that paid for part of the border fence are at the heart of an indictment against members of the We Build the Wall nonprofit, which raised more than $25 million to help President Donald Trump build a border wall.

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, We Build the Wall founder Brian Kolfage and two others connected to the organization are accused of siphoning donor money to pay off personal debt and fund lavish lifestyles. All four, who face up to 20 years in prison on each of the two counts they face, have pleaded not guilty, and Bannon has called the charges a plot to stop border wall construction.

We Build the Wall, whose executive board is made up of influential immigration hard-liners like Bannon, Kris Kobach and Tom Tancredo, contributed $1.5 million of the cost of the $42 million private border fence project south of Mission, Texas.

Last year, the nonprofit also hired Fisher to build a half-mile fence segment in Sunland Park, New Mexico, outside El Paso.

Company president Tommy Fisher, a frequent guest on Fox News, had called the Rio Grande fence the “Lamborghini” of border walls and bragged that his company’s methods could help Trump reach his Election Day goal of about 500 new miles of barriers along the southern border.

Instead, one engineer who reviewed the two reports on behalf of ProPublica and The Texas Tribune likened Fisher’s fence to a used Toyota Yaris.

Continue reading at The Texas Tribune.

Private Border Wall Fundraisers Have Been Arrested on Fraud Charges

Federal prosecutors indicted Brian Kolfage and others involved with the nonprofit We Build the Wall, charging that they looted the charity for personal gain. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

When we asked Brian Kolfage last month to explain how his group We Build the Wall had spent the $25 million it had raised, plus address concerns of corruption when the private sector takes over the building of border walls, he scoffed.

“How is there corruption?” Kolfage, a decorated Iraq War veteran, told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. “It’s privatized. It’s not federal money.”

As to the money, he said those details would come in the fall when the nonprofit filed the required tax forms.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors indicted Kolfage; We Build the Wall board member Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Donald Trump; and two others involved in the nonprofit, charging that they looted the charity for personal gain.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said they falsely told donors that all the money raised by the group would go toward construction but then directed a sizable chunk to themselves.

“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, 38, 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,” she added in a news release.

More than $350,000 was allegedly routed to Kolfage, which he spent on, among other things, home renovations, a triple-engined outboard boat and a luxury SUV. Bannon, 66, through an unnamed nonprofit, received more than $1 million, according to the indictment. The other two charged are Andrew Badolato, a venture capitalist, and Timothy Shea, who is married to We Build The Wall’s chief financial officer. Bannon pleaded not guilty in federal court on Thursday.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

A Privately Funded Border Wall Was Already at Risk of Collapsing if Not Fixed. Hurricane Hanna Made It Worse.

This private border wall was already at risk of falling down if not fixed. A hurricane made things worse. Engineering experts said photos of damage from last weekend’s storms reinforces the idea that building and maintaining a border fence so close to the river poses serious challenges. (James Hord/ProPublica-Texas Tribune)

Intense rain over the weekend from Hurricane Hanna left gaping holes and waist-deep cracks on the banks of the Rio Grande that threaten the long-term stability of a privately funded border fence that is already the focus of lawsuits over its proximity to the river in South Texas.

The damage comes at the start of what is projected to be an active hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30.

Engineering experts who reviewed photos of the jagged cracks caused by the weekend’s storms said the damage reinforces what many have long said: Building and maintaining a border fence so close to the river poses serious challenges.

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune previously reported that just months after completion, the private fence built by Fisher Industries, a North Dakota-based company, was showing signs of erosion that threatened its stability and could cause it to topple into the river if not fixed.

“It’s going to be a never-ending battle. You are always going to be fighting erosion when you are that close to the river,” said Adriana E. Martinez, a professor and geomorphologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who has studied the impact of the border barriers in South Texas.

The 3-mile stretch of bollards along the river south of Mission, Texas, was a showcase project by Fisher Industries’ CEO Tommy Fisher, who put up more than $40 million of his own money to prove to the Trump administration that the private industry could do what the government hadn’t been able to: build the border wall right along the river.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

Trump Says He “Disagreed” With Privately Funded Border Wall, So Why Did His Administration Award the Builder $1.7 Billion in Contracts to Erect More Walls?

President Donald Trump visiting the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande in January 2019, not far from where a builder backed by his supporters later erected a border wall. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Donald Trump complained via Twitter on Sunday that a privately constructed border wall in Texas was a bad idea and poorly done — not mentioning that his administration has awarded the builder a $1.7 billion contract to build more walls.

With the backing of Trump supporters, Tommy Fisher built a 3-mile border fence along the Rio Grande, calling it the “Lamborghini” of fences. But just months after completion of his showcase piece directly on the banks of the river, there are signs of erosion along and under the fence that threatens its stability and could cause it to topple into the river if not fixed, experts told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

“I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. 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,” Trump tweeted with a typo in reaction to the news organizations’ report about the wall.

Trump’s tweet, however, is belied by actions his administration has taken to support the wall’s builder.

Continue reading at ProPublica.