US authorities on Thursday said a crowdfunded wall project billed by a former White House adviser as closing the "most important mile" along the border isn't actually in an area that is considered a security priority.
Steve Bannon, the former strategist for President Trump and advisory board chair for the "We Build the Wall" campaign, which is funding the construction of a wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico, told CNN that Border Patrol officials had said "it's the No. 1 most important mile to close."
But in a statement, US Customs and Border Protection said the "project is not connected to our efforts," adding that it has already prioritized building border barriers in locations that "will most impact border security operations." The site where North Dakota–based construction company Fisher Industries built the wall on private land is "not prioritized under current funding," the agency added.
Using millions from its fundraising efforts, We Build the Wall has so far built about a half-mile portion of the barrier, which has faced pushback from Sunland Park city officials.
On Tuesday, the city issued a stop-work order for the project after officials determined that an application submitted last week for the wall was incomplete and in violation of an ordinance. However, on Thursday, Mayor Javier Perea told reporters work was allowed to resume after permit issues had been resolved.
Brian Kolfage, the decorated Iraq War veteran spearheading the campaign, tweeted the group hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the media and board members.
At a press conference, Perea said the project was “railroaded” onto the city, and that up to 80% of the project has already been built at this point. There are still issues that need to be addressed, he added, such as pedestal, drainage, and foundation plans that still need a stamp of approval from a certified New Mexico engineer.
Representatives for We Build the Wall did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Construction of the border wall, a cornerstone of Trump's campaign, continues to face challenges as he gears up for the 2020 election. According to court documents, CBP has so far only built 1.7 miles of fencing with the $1.6 billion Congress appropriated in 2018. But the challenges and pace of construction didn't stop Trump from promising to build 500 miles of border wall by the end of 2020 at a rally in Pennsylvania last week.
The Associated Press reported that so far the administration has awarded contracts for 244 miles of wall construction, with most of that for replacement barriers and fencing. More than half the money comes from the Defense Department, which Trump tapped into under an emergency declaration in February.
Last week, a California federal judge overseeing two cases challenging the wall's construction granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the Trump administration from redirecting funds under his declaration. The order was limited to construction projects in El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona.