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The Hispanic-American contractors who want to build Trump’s border wall

Rick Aguilar’s parents and grandparents all came to the U.S. from Mexico, but that’s not stopping him from bidding to help erect President Trump’s border wall.

“I want to put up a border and keep people out who aren’t supposed to be in the country illegally,” he said. “It’s another project, and I don’t have any reservations at all to work on it.”

Aguilar is the owner of Construction Technology Network, a small Northern California company that specializes in project management. He’s one of at least 26 Hispanic-American business owners to have registered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to bid on government contracts to build the border wall, according to an analysis by VICE News.  

The wall, which could cost U.S. taxpayers anywhere from $21 billion to $38 billion depending on the design and location, is a massive infrastructure project that has attracted interest from more than 600 firms. Any company that meets the minimum requirements can submit a bid, and while the federal government often gives preference to small or minority-owned businesses, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman wouldn’t comment on whether Hispanic-American-owned companies would have a leg up on the competition.

The agency “wants to consider as many innovative ideas offered by the industry as possible,” the spokesperson said.

For some Hispanic-American contractors, however, working on Trump’s border wall comes with a unique set of baggage. When Trump announced his presidential campaign in June 2015, he promised to build “a great, great wall on our southern border,” which he said would prevent Mexican “rapists” from “bringing crime” into the United States. Since then, the wall has been one of Trump’s signature initiatives, and if it’s ever completed, stands to be a physical manifestation of Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric and policies, including ramping up the detention and deportation of people in the country without authorization.

VICE News contacted nearly a dozen companies that identified themselves in the bidding process as being owned by Hispanic-Americans. Several declined to comment or didn’t respond to inquiries. One employee hung up the phone as soon as the wall was mentioned. The receptionist at another company expressed surprise after learning that her boss had registered to submit a bid.

Aguilar was the most outspoken about his views and motivations. While he hasn’t told his half dozen employees about his interest in building the wall, he insists he has nothing to hide.

“I know my mom and dad[’s] folks were both born in Mexico, and my mom came over the border and my dad, it was — back then, there wasn’t a worry about people trying to kill you,” he said. “Now, we live in a different day and age where people coming over the border, you know, have this purpose to do harm to, so putting up a border is not a big deal.”

But there’s already backlash brewing against the wall contractors. California lawmakers are considering a law that would require the state to divest its pension investments in any companies involved in the project. Oakland and Berkeley have passed measures that forbid the city governments from doing business with wall contractors. And legislators in San Francisco, New York, Arizona, Illinois, and Rhode Island are considering similar measures.

Fierce opposition is also coming from south of the border. Mexico’s economy minister recently warned his nation’s builders that “it would undoubtedly be in [their] interest to not participate in the construction of the wall,” and the country’s Catholic Archdiocese said Sunday that Mexicans who build the wall “should be considered traitors to the homeland.”

Aguilar pointed to a page on his company’s website that highlights his Evangelical Christian faith. He said he doesn’t care whether immigrants are “black, white, orange, or purple,” they shouldn’t be coming into the country without proper authorization.

“I don’t think [being] Hispanic has anything to do with working on the project,” Aguilar said. “If I was a white American, I’d want to work on it anyway. The philosophy or the position that people have is either you want to let unknown folks into the country or you don’t want to let unkown folks into the country. Those are really the two positions you’re going to take.”

Customs and Border Protection has requested plans for two different types of walls —  one made from solid concrete and another at least partially see-through that would be more “operationally advantageous” for Border Patrol agents who want to see what’s happening on the other side. The agency says both walls are supposed to be “physically imposing in height,” but designs as low as 18 feet “may be acceptable.” At various times on the campaign trail, Trump said the wall would be anywhere from 30 to 65 feet tall.

Aguilar’s company, which specializes in costing estimating, scheduling, and quality assurance, wouldn’t physically build the wall. They’d assist larger contractors doing the bulk of the work.

But other companies that registered would be the ones doing the hard labor. Marc Uribe, a federal program manager at De La Fuente Construction in Southern California, said his company specializes in structural concrete and heavy civil engineering, which would make them a natural fit to build the concrete version of the border wall.

“It’s just a project to us,” Uribe said, “just an infrastructure.”

He said the company has 30 to 40 employees and that 50 to 60 percent of them are Hispanic, including the owners. He said the workers haven’t yet been told about the border wall bid, but he doesn’t anticipate any objections. He blamed the media for stirring up controversy.

“It’s the news reporters,” Uribe said. “They’re implying it’s a big deal because everybody is upset, that’s creating this big quandary of ‘Is it right or wrong to put an infrastructure right along the border?’ It’s who’s going to pay for it — it’s politics, you know.”

Uribe said his company’s ambitious proposal, which includes plans to build bullet train tracks through points of entry along the border, would benefit both the U.S. and Mexico. “We got a proposal here that’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it.”

Customs and Border Protection said the wall contracts will be awarded this summer, and prototypes will be built and publicly displayed ahead of time, likely in the San Diego area. The proposals are due March 29.

Uribe said it makes perfect sense his company, which is headquartered in the San Diego area, to participate in the bidding process.

“It’s not only what we do,” he said, “but it’s in our backyard.”

Habibah Abass, Morgan Conley, and Christina Sterbenz contributed research to this report. 

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