Last updateFri, 12 Apr 2019 2pm

Trump puts the bite on Mexico

Most commentators are calling it morally bankrupt; his supporters say it’s further proof that he’s the right man to bring “greatness” back to the United States. President Barack Obama describes the plan as “half-baked.”

Details of how Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump intends to “squeeze” Mexico into paying for his proposed 1,000-mile border wall were released this week.  His idea: to cut off most of the $US23-24 billion in remittances sent back each year to Mexico – equivalent to around two percent of this country’s GDP. He intends to do this by not allowing money to be sent abroad, “unless the alien first provides a document establishing his lawful presence in the United States.”

Says Trump: “It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of US$5-10 billion to ensure that US$24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.” 

Notwithstanding the fact that such a move – based on an expansion of the Patriot Act – could have a disastrous effect on the Mexican economy, spur further migration northward and probably provoke retaliatory measures south of the border, the proposal looks implausible, even with perfunctory examination.

For a start, no data exists to indicate what percentage of the $US23-24 billion sent back in remittances each year to Mexico comes from undocumented citizens.  (At least three members of my Mexican wife’s extended family regularly send money back to Jalisco from California and Illinois through wire transfers.  Trouble is Donald, they all have green cards.)   If ever enacted, the measure could simply force migrants into sending their money back home through other “underground” channels, some analysts predict.

And the proposal would appear even more redundant should Trump press ahead with his plan to deport some 12 million undocumented citizens.  His leverage would be considerably reduced, and likely make Mexico even more determined not to yield to pressure.  (Trump believes deportations could be done “peacefully” within eight years. Experts suggest a program will take a minimum of 20 years and cost upward of 200 billion dollars, while decimating the U.S. economy.)

A move to restrict remittances would inevitably involve lengthy litigation, especially from heavyweights such as MoneyGram and Western Union. Trump’s claim that he would be able to enact the proposal under the USA Patriot Act (an anti-terrorism law) would come under intense scrutiny, experts predict. Most significantly, he would have to prove that illegal immigration is a threat to the nation’s security, a supposition that would face a huge legal challenge.  

Trump claims he can build a wall for US$8 billion, while the most conservative estimates say it cannot be done for less than double that figure.  In this week’s memo outlining his proposal, the real-estate mogul says he expects initial resistance from Mexico to his strong-arm tactics but believes the nation will come around and cough up rather than see its economy sent into a tail-spin.

Of course, Trump’s mafia-style posturing is aimed almost exclusively at Republican primary voters and not Mexico’s politicians, who in the most part have taken his polemic proclamations with a good measure of restraint. 

This week, however, Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu admitted that “the increasingly hostile climate” had prompted a change in the two top officials who are responsible for relations with the United States, with Carlos Sada named the new ambassador to the United States, and the former consul in Los Angeles, Paulo Carreno appointed the deputy foreign minister for North America.  This should be seen as an indication that Mexico is no longer prepared to sit quietly in the background as the election year unfolds north of the border.

One person who definitely will not stay silent is former president Vicente Fox, who famously said on a U.S. cable network that Mexico “is not going to pay for that f—-ing wall.”  In a Guardian editorial this week, he suggested Mexico won’t be the biggest loser if a wall is ever built.  “It will be the United States and Trump’s own people who will pay the price for his egocentric and xenophobic dreams.”

Using more thoughtful language than in his previous outburst, Fox even thanked the “false prophet” Trump for enlightening the debate: “Thanks to his racist ideas, Mexico is in the global spotlight and more and more people inside and outside the United States are realizing the decent way Mexicans live their lives.”

Michael Forbes

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