A March 12 town hall supporting efforts to crowdfund a border wall between the United States and Mexico will feature a familiar, controversial name: Steve Bannon, a former strategist for President Donald Trump.
Bannon, who is known for his strong nationalist stance against immigration, will be joined by others with similar high profile, pro-Trump, anti-immigration leanings, including former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke.
The "We Build the Wall" event at the Hilton Netherland Plaza on Fifth Street is organized by a nonprofit with the same name. Conservative activist Brian Kolfage started the group in December, after a GoFundMe effort raised more than $20 million from 337,000 donors. That money was later refunded to donors because Kolfage wanted to route it to the nonprofit instead of the federal government, which cannot accept the donations.
"We acknowledge that the federal government won’t be able to accept American citizen donations specifically for the wall anytime soon," a Facebook event page for the Cincinnati rally reads. "American citizens in the private sector are better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border."
Bannon is a board member of the nonprofit. The group held its first event in Tuscon, Arizona on Feb. 8. Organizers have said they chose Cincinnati because conservative activists here reached out to the nonprofit, and because of the heroin crisis' impact on Ohio.
Kolfage has said he believes the group can raise the $1 billion he has estimated it would cost to build the wall on private land along the border with Mexico.
President Donald Trump has pressed forward trying to fulfill a campaign promise to build the barrier. Trump and Congress deadlocked on the former's demand for $5.6 billion to build the wall in the government's yearly spending legislation, causing the longest-ever U.S. government shutdown last month. After Congress refused to provide the money, Trump declared a national emergency so he could use military funds to build the wall. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to reject that declaration.
The wall, which was a defining keystone of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, has been controversial among voters.
Trump has characterized the situation at the southern U.S. border as a crisis, and that floods of immigrants are bringing drugs and crime into the U.S.
But critics have questioned several of Trump's assertions supporting the need for the border wall, saying it will not stop the flow of drugs or undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Homeland Security say most illicit drugs coming across the border go through legal checkpoints, not unguarded areas of the border.
Apprehensions of undocumented people crossing the border rose last year, reaching 465,000. That's the most since 2014, but is still far fewer than in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was not uncommon for apprehensions to reach more than a million a year.
Most of those apprehensions are of families fleeing violence in Central America.
A "large share of recent apprehensions are UACs (unaccompanied minors) and asylum seekers who are routinely apprehended,” DHS officials wrote in a 2017 report.
Tickets to the We Build the Wall event in Cincinnati are free, though the group notes it reserves the right to refuse entry to those who aren't border wall supporters. The group will make a stop in Detroit March 14 after its Cincinnati event.