By NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — A local judge in South Texas has ordered supporters of President Donald Trump not to build their planned private border wall on a section of land near the Rio Grande.
State District Judge Keno Vásquez on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order against We Build the Wall, which raised $25 million after promising to build its own private barrier. Vásquez set a December 17 hearing for We Build the Wall and its founder, Brian Kolfage, to appear in court in the South Texas city of Edinburg.
We Build the Wall announced on Facebook last month that it was starting construction on private land next to the Rio Grande, the river that separates the U.S. and Mexico in Texas. It posted videos that showed a construction foreman describing plans to install posts a short distance from the riverbank.
The announcement drew immediate criticism from the nonprofit National Butterfly Center, which is located near the site and filed the motion for the temporary restraining order. Wall opponents who say private construction could worsen erosion or push floodwaters onto other people’s property in a storm.
The butterfly center and the advocacy group EarthJustice issued a statement Wednesday calling We Build the Wall’s plans “illegal.”
“The incredible biodiversity found here, supported and enhanced by 17 years of labor and millions of dollars of investment, is integral to the health of a fragile, but vibrant ecosystem and warrants protection against this unlawful incursion,” said Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, in a statement.
The plans also drew the attention of the International Boundary and Water Commission, an agency set up by the U.S. and Mexico under treaty obligations where both sides agree to cooperate on any changes to the riverbank that could affect the other side.
The commission has asked We Build the Wall and Fisher Industries, its construction partner, for more information. Kolfage on Wednesday re-affirmed that his organization won’t begin construction until it gets the commission’s approval.
Kolfage said We Build the Wall overcame local opposition on its first project —less than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) built near El Paso, Texas— that included pushback from officials and the water commission. So far, the construction in Sunland Park, New Mexico, is the only barrier the group has built since its founding in December 2018.
“The courts will prevail in our favor because, obviously, what we’re doing is legal,” he said, adding that claims to the contrary were “100% false.”