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Federal judge approves temporary restraining order, stops construction on private border wall

At the request of the federal government, a judge on Thursday temporarily stopped a construction company from building a privately owned border wall south of Mission.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane approved a temporary restraining order against North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, which plans to build more than 3 miles of privately owned border wall near Madero.

At the request of the International Boundary and Water Commission, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas requested a restraining order against Fisher Industries, the property owner and an organization called “We Build the Wall,” which solicited donations for the project.

“All we’re asking is: ‘Stop what you’re doing,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Paxton Warner said during a hearing Thursday afternoon. “Stop it all.”

Thursday marked the second time during the past week that We Build the Wall had been slapped with a lawsuit in Hidalgo County.

The National Butterfly Center filed a lawsuit against We Build the Wall on Tuesday in state district court. While state District Judge Librado “Keno” Vasquez approved a temporary restraining order in that case, the National Butterfly Center lawsuit didn’t mention Fisher Industries.

We Build the Wall, a Florida-based organization that supports President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall, spent weeks hyping the project on social media.

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who represented We Build the Wall in court Thursday, said the organization actually played a relatively minor role in the project.

“We don’t have any control over the project or the machinery or what’s going on,” said Kobach, who added that We Build the Wall provided about 5 percent of the funding and mostly handled “social media cheerleading” for the project.

The announcement prompted quizzical looks in the courtroom. Based on that information, which Fisher Industries confirmed, Crane agreed to dismiss We Build the Wall as a defendant.

Attorneys turned their attention to Fisher Industries.

Warner said Fisher Industries destroyed the riverbank without approval from the IBWC, which is charged with reviewing construction projects that may alter the course of the Rio Grande — the border between the United States and Mexico.

Attorneys for Fisher Industries said the company provided the IBWC with data and felt confident the project wouldn’t cause any problems.

After the discussion, Crane approved the terms of the temporary restraining order.

Fisher Industries agreed to stop destroying the riverbank, which had been transformed into a beach, and not to build any permanent structures on the property until further notice. The company may continue clearing brush.

“Nobody is complaining about bulldozing some trees,” Crane said, adding later: “As long as you’re not physically moving dirt from the riverbank or the river’s edge.”

Crane also questioned why Fisher Industries wanted to build a privately owned border wall less than a mile south of where the federal government plans to build its wall.

“Doesn’t that seem duplicative of what the government is already doing?” Crane said.

Attorney Tim Priebe, the general counsel for Fisher Sand & Gravel Co., said the company heard the federal government had problems acquiring land in Texas and wanted to help.

Priebe also suggested landowners wanted a wall closer to the Rio Grande, and said the Fisher family of companies is prepared to spend “a ton of private money” on the project.

Crane questioned that explanation, adding that, in general, the federal government had very few problems acquiring property in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I think your premise is mistaken,” Crane said.

A status conference is scheduled for Dec. 12.

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