For more than a century, the United States and Mexico have been friendly and cooperative neighbors. It has taken President Donald Trump seven days to trash that relationship.
After a bigoted campaign that smeared one of America’s biggest trading partners, the new president spent his first week courting diplomatic crisis.
First came the executive order on his border wall, a folly for which he claims Mexico will pay, but which could soak taxpayers for up to $38 billion. Then came the threat to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary” cities that prefer local police keep the peace, rather than duplicate the work of immigration agents.
Then, with the release of the actual wording on his executive orders, came the realization that Trump is talking mass deportations — a redefining of criteria that, if Congress funds it, could sweep up innocents, separate parents from children and incarcerate legions without due process.
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But perhaps the most alarming turn came Thursday, as Trump capped his week by nearly launching a trade war. After an understandably fed-up Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto repeated that Mexico wouldn’t pay for Trump’s wall and threatened to cancel a planned visit, Trump tweeted that Peña Nieto should stay home — which the Mexican president did, unifying his nation in outrage.
By Friday, heads reportedly had cooled and the two men talked by phone. But not before garbled statements from Trump’s staff had raised the specter of a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports to cover the wall tab.
Why is Trump pursuing this insane, hostile agenda? Why try to humiliate an ally and neighbor?
Just for the record, such a move would wreak havoc on the Mexican economy, damage the U.S. economy, violate World Trade Organization rules and the North American Free Trade Agreement, disrupt manufacturing chains and drive up the price of everything from automobiles to avocados.
Also, that 20 percent would be passed on to U.S. consumers, forcing Americans to pay for Trump’s Folly twice.
Why is Trump pursuing this insane, hostile foreign policy? Why try to humiliate an ally and neighbor while cozying up to brutal kleptocrat Vladimir Putin? Bashing Mexico may play to the basest part of Trump’s base, but it doesn’t remotely reflect the values and priorities of most Americans.
In poll after poll, Americans say 2-1 that they don’t want a wall or mass deportation. Most don’t share his view that immigrants are a burden, or buy his false claim that Mexican criminals are besieging the country.
Along the 2,000-mile border — and throughout the nation — family and community ties by the million bind the two nations. About 12 million Mexican immigrants were living in the United States in 2014, with 37 percent in California and another 21 percent in Texas.
They are our neighbors and friends, customers, vendors and co-workers. They cook in American restaurants, teach in American classrooms, pick produce in American fields, make art in American cities. They attend school, sit at the next desk, stand in the checkout line at Raley’s. Entire industries — construction, hospitality, agriculture — would be brought to their knees in parts of the United States were it not for Mexican immigrant labor.
Illegal immigration has been declining for decades, partly because of NAFTA-created jobs, and partly because border enforcement was plenty tough under the Obama administration. Last year, the U.S. Border Patrol caught only 415,816 people trying to unlawfully enter the country; the number was more than twice that a decade ago.
As president, Trump has a duty to maintain secure borders. Whether it’s laziness, incompetence or ignorance, Trump is wielding a blunt instrument when he ought to be developing a sensible overhaul of immigration law. His fellow Republicans will pay at the polls for his policy blunders, particularly in California.
Walls won’t work. A third of the Mexican border is already walled, including much of the border with California. Around San Diego, there are walls that stretch out into the breakers of the Pacific Ocean and double walls around rivers. There’s a saying: Show me a 10-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 12-foot ladder. Or a 60-foot tunnel.
Nor is brutality effective. Convicted felons and repeat border hoppers are already being deported, but Trump wants to change the rules so that anyone who could conceivably be charged with a crime could be rounded up, guilty or not, and deported or detained.
He has called for the hiring of 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and the building of new detention centers near the border.
He also has resurrected the Secure Communities deportation program, a civil rights fiasco that was shut down in 2014 amid reports that parents were being deported for running stop signs. And he has threatened to withhold federal funding from cities that refuse to enable this nonsense.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government can’t coerce states to enact policy by threatening unrelated federal funding. But there’s also a pragmatic argument: The law can’t be enforced when immigrants are so afraid they won’t talk to police.
Mayors from Boston to Sacramento are right not to bow to Trump’s saber-rattling on sanctuary cities. And California’s legislative leaders are right to be fast-tracking legislation that would buttress them legally.
What does work are economic policies that have lifted trade barriers and opened Mexico to foreign investment, improving living standards so that Mexicans don’t need to cross the border to find employment. Trump claims that kind of security has come at the expense of American workers, but a 2014 assessment of NAFTA found that about 2 million U.S. jobs depend on Mexican trade.
It is beyond disappointing that, given a chance to unite the country, Trump has chosen to tear communities apart with a spiteful, expensive nonsolution to a problem that was fixing itself. Congress must come to its senses, stand up to the new president and insist on what a majority of Americans would actually welcome: comprehensive immigration reform.
Editor’s note: Editorials from other newspapers are offered to stimulate debate and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune.