IN THREATENING to cut off billions of dollars in annual money transfers as a means of coercing Mexico to pay for his famous border wall, Donald Trump asserts, “We have the moral high ground here, and all the leverage.” If only.
If Mr. Trump carried out his threat, the result would be disastrous not just for Mexico but for the United States as well. Millions of Mexicans and Mexican towns and villages, many of them already impoverished, would suddenly be deprived of a critical source of income. Hunger, disease and crime rates would spike; children would be among the most obviously and severely affected.
How does that provide a moral high ground?
As for leverage, it’s not hard to foresee massive adverse impacts for the United States arising from Mr. Trump’s plan, an effort to force his will on a country that has long been a key ally. As every general knows, the other side gets a say in how the battle is conducted.
For starters, seizing money transfers, known as remittances, as Mr. Trump threatens to do, could quickly yield a result contrary to what Mr. Trump seeks: a wave of newly impoverished Mexican immigrants seeking a better life north of the border. That would reverse the downward trend of illegal border crossings in recent years, partly stemming from better economic conditions in Mexico
Contrary to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, Mexico is a friendly neighbor, whose cooperation with Washington on bilateral issues is vital to North American prosperity. Mexico’s help in interdiction was key to the Obama administration’s efforts to stanch the wave of Central American youths heading toward the United States in summer 2014. Mexican authorities work closely with U.S. counterparts on cross-border trucking and trade, drug and human trafficking, and money laundering, among other issues.
If U.S. officials have not always thought Mexico’s efforts were adequate, imagine what level of cooperation they could expect after a Trump administration declared economic war to extort a sum for a wall Mr. Trump prices at “$5-10 billion,” but other estimates peg as high as $25 billion.
Separately Mr. Trump has vowed to deport every immigrant who is here illegally. It seems problematic to suppose Mr. Trump could block remittances from people who would no longer be in the country to transmit them. Legal experts say it would be difficult for Mr. Trump to use the USA Patriot Act, as he proposes, to block money transfers. And distinguishing transfers by legal immigrants from those by illegal ones would pose massive administrative challenges.
Illegal crossings at the United States’ southwestern border are near a 40-year low, and since 2009 more Mexican immigrants have been leaving the country than entering it. What’s more, a third of illegal immigrants enter the country as legal ones, then overstay their visas. Mr. Trump’s plan to extort Mexico in the vain hope that a white elephant of a wall would “solve” illegal immigration is fanciful, naive and reckless, aimed more at exciting his base than grappling seriously with problems. But then, so is Mr. Trump’s entire campaign.
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