Many of the businesses appear to be small or mid-sized firms, offering services from consulting to construction, lighting to video surveillance. At least 133 companies were listed as owned by minorities – including 39 by Hispanics. About 127 were run by women, while about 80 are veteran-owned. Those designations could qualify them for special consideration for government contracts.
The database does not include details of any proposals the companies may have submitted. In addition, many companies did not provide any demographic information. For those that did, CNBC’s analysis allowed companies to be counted in more than one category. For example, a business headed by a female veteran would be counted as both woman-owned and veteran-owned.
Notably absent from the government’s list of interested vendors were some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction companies, such as Bechtel and United Technologies. One long-time government contractor, Caddell Construction, did submit paperwork. And the publicly traded U.S. Concrete, which is headquartered in Texas, also expressed interest.
More than a dozen companies that submitted inquiries are located outside the United States, including the one from Mexico.
Ted Atalla runs a small business selling LED lights called EcoVelocity based in Puebla, Mexico, about an hour and a half outside of the country’s capital. He said he was born in Egypt and immigrated to the United States as a child. After many years in California as an American citizen, he moved to Mexico about five years ago and counts himself among Trump’s supporters.
“I’ve been defending what we’ve been doing over there,” he told CNBC. “I think it’s a good thing.”
But Atalla said he doesn’t expect to win any work on the wall: His LED lights are made in China, and that’s unlikely to go over well with the administration’s mantra of buying and hiring American.
“I’m just watching [the contract] to see if I can offer anything to anybody when it comes,” he said.
Customs and Border Patrol has extended the deadline for initial applications several times, saying “industry interest has been high.” In its request for information, the agency described plans to build a concrete wall about 30 feet high that can prevent climbing and withstand tampering or damage.
“The intent of this procurement is to acquire and evaluate available wall prototypes and provide some initial construction of some wall segments, but is not intended as the vehicle for the procurement of the total wall solution for the border with Mexico,” the contract listing from Customs and Border Patrol states.
Kenneth Madsen, a geography professor at The Ohio State University, said the agency now appears open to both a concrete wall that would block pedestrians as well as other barriers – such as a fence – that might only stop vehicles. And he pointed out that in Arizona, at least, physical barriers are already in place along nearly all passable portions of the state’s border with Mexico.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that Mexico will pay for the wall, though the nation’s leaders have adamantly rejected that proposal. In Washington, Democrats have already vowed to reject any spending bill that includes money for the border wall.
“If Republicans insist on inserting poison pill riders … they will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the administration is asking for $1.5 billion this fiscal year and $2.6 billion in fiscal 2018. Mulvaney said the funds would be used to create pilot projects that test different types of barriers in several locations along the Mexican border.
“This is a hard-power budget. That was done intentionally,” Mulvaney told reporters during a background call Wednesday. “The president wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries.”
One in 10 firms bidding for Trump’s Mexico wall project are Hispanic-owned
Ten percent of the companies interested in bidding for the first stage of the construction of Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico are Hispanic-owned businesses, as construction firms wrestle with the morality of profiting from the controversial infrastructure project.
More than 600 businesses have formally registered interest since 24 February, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a presolicitation notice for contractors to perform the “design and build of several prototype wall structures” for the border.
A Guardian review of the companies reveals that 62 are “Hispanic American Owned” businesses.
“I think the wall is a waste of time and money,” said Patrick Balcazar, the owner of San Diego Project Management, PSC, a design-build construction firm in Puerto Rico that is listed as one of the Hispanic companies involved.
“For environmental reasons, it’s dumb. From an economic point of view, it’s dumb.” But, he added, “I defend your right to be stupid. If you want to put up a wall, I’m going to put up the best wall I can and I’m going to pay my people.”
The presolicitation notice, which provides few details beyond asking for 30ft tall “concrete wall structures”, is the first step toward fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise of building a “great, great wall on our southern border” to keep out Mexican immigrants, whom he has characterized as criminals and “rapists”.
During his first week in office, the president signed an executive order to move ahead with “existing funds and resources” to start construction, which he once promised would be paid for by the Mexican government. Only about $20m in funds currently exist, according to documents reviewed by Reuters. That amount would cover about one to two miles of the 1,000-mile, $21bn project.
The wall has been consistently opposed by Mexico, Mexican Americans, and the majority of the American population.
That irony is not lost on Balcazar and some of the other Hispanic businesses bidding for the construction project. “The story isn’t, ‘Hey there’s a Latino guy building a wall to keep other Latino people out,” said Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, CEO of the Penna Group in Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s that we need comprehensive immigration reform.”
Opponents of the wall contend that it is an ineffective way to police the border and object to the xenophobic and anti-Mexican tenor of Trump’s campaign. A February 2017 poll by Pew Research Center found that 62% of Americans opposed the project, with especially high opposition (83%) from Hispanics.
But where some see a racist and ineffective boondoggle, others see dollar signs. “We’re not into politics. We’re not left or right. We’re a construction company and that’s how we survive,” said Jorge Diaz, who manages De la Fuente Construction, Inc. “We don’t see it as politics. We just see it as work.”
De la Fuente’s Construction’s website makes note of Diaz’s cross-border experience, saying that he was born in San Diego but went to elementary and high school in Mexico before returning to the US for college, and that he has managed construction projects in both countries.
But Diaz was not interested in discussing the political or personal implications of constructing a giant symbol of division between the two countries. “I’m nobody to judge that,” he said.
Frank Meza, the general manager of Tabeza Holdings, which specializes in federal construction contracts, said that although he is an immigrant himself, he has no concerns about bidding for the wall.
“As a former veteran, I think it’s important to support our president, as long as it’s within the guidelines of the law,” he said. Meza said that he supports a “strong defense of our country”, though he was not persuaded that “it’s going to be as useful as many people think it’s going to be”.
The temptation of getting a piece of a $21bn project could end up dividing more than just the US and Mexico, but also Latino communities on the same side of the wall. The wall is vehemently opposed by most Latino and immigrant rights organizations. The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce opposed the wall during the campaign, arguing that it would disrupt important trade relations between the two countries unnecessarily.
“These Hispanic owners are established. They’re looking out for their interests,” said Margarito Blancos, an immigrant rights activist in Arizona. Getting involved in building the wall, he said, “deepens the divide between those that are already here and those that are looking for a better life”.
“We wanted to make sure that a company that had compassion for immigrants was one of the companies putting in one of the designs,” he said, adding that he had heard other contractors discuss “nefarious, inhumane designs” for the wall, such as lethal electricity or landmines.
The CEO, who said that he was one of the earliest participants in Occupy Wall Street in New York City, hoped that the wall would “give the American people the appetite to have comprehensive immigration reform”, which is his main priority.
As for Balcazar, his interest in the wall is strictly tied to the struggles of Puerto Rico, where work is scarce amid an economic crisis. “It’s like this,” he said. “Lady Gaga, she wears some pretty wild stuff on stage … But when she goes to her tailor and asks for it, they’re not going to say, ‘That looks terrible.’”
Ultimately, Balcazar thinks both Mexico and the United States should focus more on economic development than policing the border. “My goal is to build a wall so I can make enough money so we can turn this thing around and tear down the wall again.”
Sources: The Guardian and CNBC