Michael Hari, who recently launched his own global security firm from tiny downstate Clarence, wants to build President Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” on the Mexican border and believes he can do it better, and for billions of dollars less, than more established contractors.
A former sheriff’s deputy who most recently ran an agricultural food safety certification business, Hari is among more than 200 vendors interested in winning the mammoth and controversial construction project.
“We would look at the wall as not just a physical barrier to immigration but also as a symbol of the American determination to defend our culture, our language, our heritage, from any outsiders,” said Hari, 46, one of a handful of Illinois applicants.
A rallying cry throughout Trump’s campaign, the proposed border wall was outlined in a Jan. 25 executive order and took shape last month with the president’s 2018 budget blueprint and a request for proposals from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The initial application deadline was extended from Wednesday of last week to Tuesday to accommodate questions about the design process, said Carlos Diaz, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman.
The wall would stretch about 2,000 miles from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, with $2.6 billion requested in the 2018 budget to fund border infrastructure. Republican leaders have said the total project would cost $12 billion to $15 billion, with independent estimates running as high as $38 billion.
Trump has repeatedly pledged that Mexico would pay for the wall, but the ultimate source of funding remains a question.
The request for proposals includes both concrete and “other” construction, and it calls for a wall that is “physically imposing in height,” preferably 30 feet tall. It should be “impossible to climb,” prevent tunneling below, and be impervious to everything from a sledgehammer to a pickax.
The U.S.-facing north side of the wall must be “aesthetically pleasing,” according to the proposal guidelines.
The agency will review the proposals, winnowing the pool down to no more than 20 applicants, who will then be asked to build prototypes of their designs in San Diego. Diaz said the prototype building would likely take place in the summer.
People can go up there, walk it or bicycle it. We’re probably the only ones who have submitted a proposal making it recreational.
“It’s like any contract; the evaluation process will take some time,” Diaz said.
Hari’s proposal evokes “classic design” and “strategic” routing that strays surprisingly far from the border.
“I think the most outstanding thing about our proposal is just the route,” said Hari, whose nascent company, Crisis Resolution Security Services, is housed in a former bank building in Clarence, an unincorporated community of less than 100 people about 50 miles south of Kankakee.
Following interstate and other major highways, Hari proposes cutting about 500 miles off the 2,000-mile route and leaving large swaths of U.S. land — Marfa, Texas, for example — south of the border wall. At its farthest, Hari’s proposed wall is 100 miles from Mexico, but he’s not ceding any territory. Rather, he is letting the rough terrain serve as a natural deterrent and a zone for border patrol agents to intercept people who’ve crossed the border illegally.
Hari said his proposed 1,500-mile wall would cost about $10 billion.
Hari’s proposal calls for two 26-foot concrete walls built on a 30-foot packed earth berm. In between the two walls would be more packed earth, topped by a narrow pedestrian roadway, like the Great Wall of China. That would turn the border wall into more than a barrier to illegal immigration. Hari foresees a traversable tourist attraction on par with the Washington Monument.
“They can use it for patrolling, but it’s more for the public,” he said. “People can go up there, walk it or bicycle it. We’re probably the only ones who have submitted a proposal making it recreational.”
Hari said he grew up in the Champaign area but spent a lot of time in Texas border country, where his mother’s family lived. He attended graduate school in criminal justice at the University of Central Texas (now Texas A&M University-Central Texas), where he took classes in security barriers and construction, but he admits his resume may be thinner than other applicants.
“I have had some experience with it, but not a great deal,” Hari said.
Hari also has spent significant time south of the border, some of it on the run during a high-profile custody dispute more than a decade ago. A member of the Old German Baptist Brethren, a denomination that favors the plain clothes of the Amish but allows for more modern amenities, Hari fled in 2005 with his teenage daughters to religious communities in Mexico and Belize over fear he would lose custody to his ex-wife.
His flight became the subject of several episodes of the syndicated “Dr. Phil” TV show, which hired an investigator to locate Hari in Belize. Hari and his daughters returned to the U.S., and he was convicted of child abduction in 2006.
While he never went to prison, the experience made Hari a convicted felon, and for a time, he lived in a foreign country without legal permission.
“I was an illegal alien for almost a year in Belize,” Hari said. “I understand why people break the law. I have a great deal of compassion for people in this situation.”
Another Illinois applicant is Eagle Companies, a Peoria-area builder of high-security modular facilities. Founded in 1989, Eagle has installations in 27 countries and built the infectious quarantine facility for the 2-year-old immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas.
Eagle is looking for a very specific piece of the border wall project, said Timothy Tobin, the Chillicothe company’s president.
“They will need checkpoints and holding facilities,” Tobin said. “You’re still going to get some small-level of penetration over time.”
Winning a contract for Trump’s polarizing project may carry some hidden costs.
Several California cities have passed legislation prohibiting municipal contracts with companies that help construct the wall. Last fall, Illinois state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, proposed a since-abandoned bill requiring state pension funds to divest from companies hired for the border project.
Hari believes the wall would prove beneficial on both sides of the border — and to his fledgling company.
“It would make an enormous difference if we got this deal,” he said.
Tobin, meanwhile, expects the payoff for contractors to be a long way off.
“If this administration can get this wall built in the next four years, that will be impressive,” he said. “But I doubt it.”