HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — The nonprofit legal watchdog American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has filed an appeal with the Department of Homeland Security demanding information it requested nearly a year ago on the controversial organization We Build The Wall, as well as a private-border wall builder who has received billions of dollars in federal government border wall contracts.
In an Aug. 25 letter to the agency’s Freedom of Information Act officer, lawyers for the ACLU charge that DHS has ignored repeated requests for information on communication between DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection with the organization We Build The Wall, which has raised over $25 million online for private-border wall construction and whose leaders last week were indicted on charges of misspending donating money and frauding the public.
Specifically, the nonprofit asked “whether and how DHS is engaging with groups seeking to build border walls,” according to the letter.
The FOIA appeal also requests communication between the two agencies and Fisher Industries, as well as American Eagle Brick Company. Fisher Industries is owned by Fisher Sand & Gravel Company, which is run by Tommy Fisher. The company has received over $2 billion in federal government border wall contracts along the Southwest border, including areas in Laredo, Texas, and Arizona. Fisher also built the controversial private border wall south of Mission, Texas, and a section on land owned by American Eagle in Sunland Park, N.M., just outside El Paso.
Fisher is not named in the Aug. 20 indictment, which included President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and We Build The Wall founder Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who is accused of using the money to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.
The ACLU of Texas filed the appeal just days after Bannon’s and Kolfage’s arrests. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“The federal government continues to obscure its relationship with the notorious private groups behind wall projects on the southern border,” David Donatti, a lawyer for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “The public deserves to find out what role the Trump administration had in dealing with these organizations, especially now that the leaders of one of those groups, We Build the Wall, are facing fraud charges, and related companies have received over a billion in federal contracts.”
In response to questions from Border Report, Donatti said that under FOIA, the agency has 20 days to make a “determination” over whether it will release information and it has failed to do that, since the original request was made on Dec. 16, 2019.
In the appeal letter to DHS, Donatti alleged that “WBW’s activities were highly suspicious. While publically defying the IBWC, saying ‘[t]his wall is going up this week no matter what,’ and despite collecting over $25,000,000 in private donations, WBW claimed in federal court that it had nothing to do with the south Texas project, calling itself a ‘social media cheerlead[er]’ for Fisher Industries, the private contractor leading construction. … Despite these obvious red flags, DHS and CBP met and communicated with WBW, including in Washington, D.C. and during CBP site visits to WBW’s private-wall project in Sunland Park, New Mexico.”
Donatti says instead of answering the information request, the agency has changed the tracking number four times, requested additional information regarding the request and acknowledged receipt of the request but “otherwise failed to respond.”
“It’s been a multi-month process of shuffling our request between the agencies and sub components of the agencies,” Donatti told Border Report on Wednesday. Donatti did not feel that the lack of information provided had anything to do with the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s been a multi-month process of shuffling our request.”David Donatti, lawyer for the ACLU of Texas
Border Report has reached out to DHS officials for comment, and will update this story if information is received.
Kolfage, meanwhile, on social media has called his arrest last week a “witch hunt” designed “to take down every Trump insider.”
Adding to the latest woes faced by those affiliated with the private border wall, on Tuesday, Border Report learned that the South Texas land where the 3-mile stretch of wall was built by Fisher earlier this year, has been appraised at a whopping $20.2 million — up from just $272,000 in 2019. The land where the wall is located was reclassified from agricultural to “commercial,” according to appraisal documents from the Hidalgo County Appraisal District.