It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Donald Trump on the campaign trail, and the endless avalanche of bad press coverage is clearly taking a toll on the man. All this subtle and confusing business about abortion and nuclear weapons has left him dizzy and in a fog – they’re just not very Trumpy topics. So he’s getting back to his comfort zone and throwing himself once more into the hot bog of primordial muck from which his presidential campaign emerged: raw, unrelenting xenophobia.
This week, the Trump campaign provided the Washington Post with a memo laying out its plan for making good on Trump’s promise to force Mexico to pay for the big dumb border wall he wants to build. The centerpiece of it is a proposal to fiddle with the Patriot Act to block undocumented immigrants from sending money to Mexico. Money from remittances “serves as a de facto welfare for poor families in Mexico,” the Trump memo reads, and threatening to cut it off will force the government to pay the United States however many billion dollars to finance construction of the wall.
In characteristically Trumpish fashion, the authoritarian and thuggish candidate’s memo reads like a ransom note: “On day 3 tell Mexico that if the Mexican government will contribute $_ billion to the United States to pay for the wall, the Trump administration will not promulgate the final rule, and the regulation will not go into effect.”
There are so many places one could start when picking apart this terrible and insane policy proposal, but let’s start with the moral abhorrence Trump is enthusiastically embracing. The ostensible goal in all of this is to halt undocumented immigration, but this policy targets and punishes people who have not emigrated to the United States and have done nothing wrong beyond knowing a person who has. Recipients of remittances to Mexico are often poor, and Trump proposes to hold their already meager livelihoods hostage in order to force the Mexican government to fund his ridiculous wall. He’s going to pile added misery on people who are already living in poverty and haven’t actually done anything wrong. He is a monster.
And when you start teasing this thread out further, you realize how thoroughly backwards Trump’s idea is. Remittances are a big part of the Mexican economy – nearly $25 billion was sent to the country from Mexicans living abroad in 2015. And, again, the money has the biggest impact in the rural and poorer regions of the country where economic opportunity is lessened. When you cut off that source of economic support, as Trump is proposing to do, you’re making economic conditions inside Mexico that much worse, which will – you guessed it – impel more people in cross the border into the United States in search of opportunity. The Trump plan to fight undocumented immigration is specially engineered to create more of the problem it intends to solve.
And while President Trump is making the lives of Mexico’s poor that much worse and giving them every incentive to sneak into the United States, he’ll also be delivering a huge economic boost to the already thriving cross-border smuggling operations and black market. Closing off the official channels for sending money won’t mean that everyone will stop sending it – they’ll just find other, less legal ways to do it. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent talked to some immigration experts who pointed out the many loopholes, legal and illegal, that people will exploit to circumvent Trump’s ban on remittances:
“Black market channels would be quickly utilized for funneling money abroad,” Nowrasteh says. “Immediately it would all go underground.” He predicts that this business might flow into already existing underground money-transfer channels, such as to people who literally “haul cash across the border on their backs.” Or people might buy stocks and transfer those, to be sold in Mexico. Or, if the restriction were only on money being transferred to Mexico, as opposed to all money transferred abroad, some might send money to a third party in another country who would then send the money on to Mexico.
So this is a hell of a policy he’s cooked up. With one rule change, President Trump proposes to a) screw Mexico’s poor, b) make undocumented immigration worse, and c) line the pockets of smugglers and criminals. Magnificent! Of course, this all assumes that the policy itself stands any chance of being implemented, and right now that doesn’t seem likely. As the Washington Post’s write-up of Trump’s proposal notes, it “would test the bounds of a president’s executive powers in seeking to pressure another country.” And as Slate’s Jordan Weissman notes, “Western Union would probably sue the pants off the Trump administration and lock this issue up in court for years, if not derail it entirely.” President Obama himself got in on the mockery on Tuesday, calling Trump’s plan “not thought through” and obviously impractical: “The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico – good luck with that.”