SUNLAND PARK, United States - A US military veteran has launched construction on the first section of private border wall between the United States and Mexico, using money crowdsourced by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Sporting a red "Make America Great Again" hat, New Mexico resident Jeff Allen proudly oversaw the groundbreaking last weekend as workers with heavy construction equipment began erecting a towering fence of steel slats on land he co-owns in the city of Sunland Park, across from Ciudad Juarez, in Mexico.
"This is Americans' way of saying, 'Congress, you're worthless, and we're fighting it. We're going to build (the wall) ourselves,'" Allen, 56, told AFP.
"This is not Europe. This is America. We protect our borders."
Determined to help Trump fulfill his promise to build a "big, beautiful wall" on the border, Allen decided to do part of it himself, together with the United Constitutional Patriots, a right-wing militia that carries out vigilante border patrols.
He said the project was being funded by We Build the Wall, a company launched by war veteran and triple amputee Brian Kolfage using millions of dollars in private donations he raised through an online campaign called "We The People Will Fund The Wall."
The company's advisory board is chaired by Steve Bannon, the far-right strategist and former Trump advisor.
Kolfage celebrated the new wall Monday by posting a sleek video of its construction on Facebook.
"WE DID IT!!! First privately funded wall is nearly complete! DONATE NOW to fund more walls!" he wrote.
The new private barrier is being built at the spot where the states of New Mexico and Texas intersect with Mexico, outside El Paso.
It is a spot often used by migrants, mainly Central Americans, to reach the United States. US Border Patrol says 98,052 migrants were detained in the El Paso sector from October to April.
Allen, a Cincinnati, Ohio native who moved here 6 years ago, said it was also a crossing point rife with crime. Border crossers have tried to kill his dog, slashed his tires and thrown rocks at him, he said.
The wall will be finished within a week, measure half a mile (800 meters) long, and is being built to the same specifications as government border fencing in the area, he said.
The US government has built 3 sections of fencing in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez area since 2016, covering around 25 miles.
'NOT ABOUT RACISM'
Trump has struggled to get Congress to allocate the billions of dollars he wants for his wall, leading to a political battle that shut down the US government for more than a month.
A federal judge dealt the president another blow Friday, issuing a temporary injunction on his plan to use military funds to build sections of the wall along the nearly 2,000-mile (more than 3,000-kilometer) border.
As workers maneuvered sections of the fence into place behind him, Allen said illegal immigration had cost the United States more than $100 billion this year.
Allen insisted he had nothing against immigrants. He is married to a Mexican woman, and his daughter was born in Ciudad Juarez, where he lived for three and a half years.
"This is not about racism. This is about me protecting myself, and America having a secure border. If people want to immigrate, they should go to a port of entry and apply," he said, calling himself "a patriot."
He said he also wanted to protect migrants.
"People are bringing children up here, and they're dying. They're dragging them across the desert. Maybe a wall will stop that. They can make arrangements and come through legally, and they don't have to kill their children," he said.
He declined to say how much the barrier would cost.
Kolfage raised around $20 million on the website GoFundMe -- well short of the $1 billion he wanted to donate to the government -- before announcing that he was canceling that project and launching We Build the Wall to build sections of border barrier privately.