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Is Trump’s vow to close U.S.-Mexico border the final straw?

Thursday, April 04, 2019, 11:29 GMT+7
Is Trump’s vow to close U.S.-Mexico border the final straw?
A man sits as cars queue up in multiple lines waiting to be inspected by U.S. border patrol officers to enter from Mexico into the U.S., at the San Ysidro port of entry, in Tijuana, Mexico April 3, 2019. Photo: Reuters

Editor’s note: Dr. Terry F. Buss, a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration, wrote this piece exclusively to Tuoi Tre News.

This Tuesday, President Donald Trump shocked the world, not to mention his own White House advisors, by threatening to close the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the tsunami of illegal aliens seeking refuge.

The immediate cause for Trump’s drastic pronouncement was the impending arrival of 20,000 more illegal aliens at the border. In the Fall 2018, two separate caravans of illegals numbering 7,000 to 15,000 each, tried to overwhelm the border. Most were successful.

The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) arrested or turned back 100,000 illegals in March, a 12-year high. So overwhelmed was CBP, that they had to “capture and release” most of the illegals into the U.S. Estimates are that 1.5 million illegals will be added to the U.S. population at end of 2019.

What is galling to Trump is that illegals are increasingly becoming organized in caravans. Regional governments, NGOs, advocacy groups, and local residents are supporting the caravans, offering these illegals food, shelter, transportation and legal assistance on their journey to the U.S.

Illegals are clearly making a statement that they have a right to come to the U.S., even illegally. And that they have the right to benefits as if they were citizens.

Particularly annoying to Trump is that they carry flags from their home countries and often hold up signs disparaging the U.S. Trump believes that they are being organized to embarrass him into just giving up on enforcing U.S. borders. Trump claims that he is against illegal immigration, not immigration per se.

Trump tried to thwart illegal arrivals earlier this year by diverting $5-8 billion in Defense Department funding to build sections of a wall to keep illegals out. Trump was successful in obtaining the funding, after shutting down the U.S. government.

Trump also sent U.S. military troops to the border and increased CBP agents at key crossings along the border, but there are 2,000 such locations, and mostly unprotected.

But, as usual, Trump faced legal challenges—some ongoing—from opponents in Congress, advocacy groups, businesses and others trying to stop him. Closing the border is a result of the political circus surrounding the immigration issue.

Care more about national security than trade

Trump announced that Mexico was not doing enough to help the U.S. stem the flow of illegals. He believes that Mexican law can deter illegals crossing through Mexico. He expects Mexico to close its southern border to Central Americans—from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. They have not and will not.

Trump also announced that he was canceling funding to Central American countries intended to help stop outmigration (policy, security, violence reduction), but have been unsuccessful. U.S. foreign aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in 2017 was $450 million, or $2.1 billion since 2016. These countries acted surprised that their efforts were perceived so negatively.

When asked about the economic impact of shutting the border, Trump suggested that he cares more about national security than trade. Trump should have given this more thought.

According to Forbes Magazine, the U.S. imported $346 billion in goods from Mexico in 2018 and exported $265 billion. On an average day, $1.7 billion in goods cross the border in one direction or the other.

Because of the global economy, much trade occurs through “supply chains” across countries. If car parts from Mexico are halted at the border, cars assembled in the U.S. and Canada will cease. Mexico exports 1.6 million cars to the U.S. annually.

When asked how he would deal with economic crisis some hours later, he said he was mainly trying to get Mexican and Central American leaders’ attention. Whether these countries are really helping is a matter of debate. Trump believes that Mexicans and Central Americans are “exporting” poor people to the U.S. because they do not want to care for them.

Later, Trump further softened his threat by suggesting that all options “are on the table.”  [Trump always seems to make this statement whenever one of his policies is rejected!] That’s where the issue stands now. The Council of Economic Advisors is studying options for Trump on impacts of a closing. It seems like this study should have been done long ago as a “contingency plan” before the fact, not after it.

A sure indication that Trump would not shut the border as threatened was when Mitch McConnell, Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, voiced that Trump’s threat was not going to be realized. McConnell can stop nearly every presidential action in the Senate if he chooses.

At this writing, it does not seem that a border closing will occur, and if it does, I expect that Trump will allow vehicular traffic to flow normally, but put a halt to pedestrian traffic.

Why fights over the border are continuing

Powerful groups in the U.S. want “open borders,” and they will accept nothing less. Many still cannot get over the fact that Trump became president in 2016. Because he was elected in part to reclaim U.S. borders, he has many opponents ready to thwart him (some cities and states are refusing to cooperate with federal agents on immigration).

Democrats and some Republicans see illegals as future political party supporters who will improve their chances of getting elected (Democrats recently voted to allow illegals to vote in some U.S. elections). Others favor open borders because they feel sorry for refugees and migrants want to help them for humanitarian reasons.

Still others want cheap labor to work as gardeners, nannies, waiters, farmers, and labors, because they are unwilling to pay the wages these people deserve: Some businesses want cheap, unskilled labor so that they can compete. Some economists believe that illegals are a way to replenish the workforce with innovators, entrepreneurs, and new taxpayers.

And others are alienated from American society and wish to reengineer it: massive numbers of illegals (and legal immigrants) may help achieve this goal (billionaire George Soros seems to favor goal).

The bottom line is this: closing borders might delay thousands of illegals from coming to the U.S., but it will not stop them. Unless the U.S. drastically changes its immigration policies, the trend will continue and even accelerate.

Terry F. Buss


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