The crowdfunding platform GoFundMe said that more than $20 million in donations were slated to be refunded after a campaign to raise $1 billion for the Trump administration to build a wall on the border with Mexico had fallen well short of its goal.
The fund-raising campaign, which began last month, had gone viral as President Trump’s attempt to get Congress to pay for the wall fueled a heated political dispute and resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government.
More than 325,000 donors had pledged in the GoFundMe campaign that the organizer, a veteran from Florida named Brian Kolfage, said would have been used for President Trump’s border wall.
But in a note posted on the campaign’s website on Friday, Mr. Kolfage said the federal government would not be able to accept the donations “anytime soon.”
Mr. Kolfage said in an interview that donating to the government would have required approval from Congress and that he knew that a Democrat-controlled House would not give its approval.
Instead, Mr. Kolfage said, he has formed a Florida-based nonprofit organization called We Build the Wall that will use donations to finance a private effort to build parts of the wall where private landowners allow construction.
GoFundMe donors would have to proactively choose to redirect their money to the nonprofit; otherwise, they would be refunded.
Mr. Kolfage said he did not know exactly how many donors would want to redirect their money nor how many landowners would want parts of the wall constructed on their properties.
“When Americans see us completing real miles of beautiful wall, we know that we will raise the many billions we need to finally secure the entire border,” Mr. Kolfage said on the updated GoFundMe campaign page.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Trump administration did not respond to requests for comment on Friday evening on the possibility of a privately funded effort to build the wall.
Typically, GoFundMe campaigns can still collect money even if they do not meet their goal.
But Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for GoFundMe, said in a statement on Friday that Mr. Kolfage’s original campaign page had said “If we don’t reach our goal or come significantly close we will refund every single penny” and that “100% of your donations will go to the Trump Wall. If for ANY reason we don’t reach our goal we will refund your donation.”
Mr. Whithorne said that since the campaign was not going to reach the $1 billion goal, and that both GoFundMe and Mr. Kolfage had determined the money raised could not be given to the federal government, GoFundMe had contacted all donors to the original campaign about the refund.
Donors can ask for a refund immediately, Mr. Whithorne said, but if they do not choose to redirect their money to the nonprofit, they will automatically receive a refund in 90 days.
Immigration advocacy groups had condemned the GoFundMe campaign as a xenophobic result of fearmongering about immigrants. Some had started competing fund-raising campaigns to raise money for Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a Texas nonprofit known as Raices.
Jonathan Ryan, president and chief executive of Raices, said that despite the change in Mr. Kolfage’s campaign, the original critiques of it still stand.
“It’s a difference without a change,” Mr. Ryan said. “The wall remains the wrong direction for us as a country, something that will not help advance any of our national interests and that would only serve to further harm vulnerable refugees and immigrants seeking protection in our country.”
This week, Mr. Trump appeared on television in an attempt to pressure Congress into paying for the border wall, characterizing the situation at the Mexican border as a “humanitarian crisis” that was exposing the country to crime, drugs and terrorism.
Experts, however, point out that migrant border crossings have been declining over about two decades. The State Department said in a recent report that there was “no credible evidence” that terrorist groups had sent operatives to enter the country through Mexico.