He’s a man with a plan. Last week GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump finally explained how he intends to make Mexico pay for what he’s called a “big, beautiful wall” along our southern border.
Trump would withhold remittances (money) sent by undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to their families in Mexico until Mexico agrees to cough up between $5 and $10 billion to pay for the wall. He outlined his proposal in a two-page memo sent to The Washington Post.
It would be an enormous bureaucratic burden upon companies like Western Union if their employees suddenly had to establish lawful presence from every single one of their U.S. customers. If Trump envisions making his new regulations apply only to money sent by Mexicans, it would open the door to charges of racial profiling.
- Raul A. Reyes
Like so much of his rhetoric, Trump’s border wall proposal is as problematic as it is unrealistic. It would surely have unintended negative consequences. His plan is diplomatically reckless — not to mention just plain dumb.
In 2015, Mexicans living abroad sent nearly $25 billion back to Mexico. This money is a critical part of Mexico’s economy, amounting to about 2 percent of its GDP.
Although Trump wants to freeze monies sent by people in the U.S. illegally, our current money transfer systems do not distinguish between legal and undocumented people. In fact, a Government Accountability Office report in January noted the difficulty in tracking money transfers based on immigration status.
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It would be an enormous bureaucratic burden upon companies like Western Union if their employees suddenly had to establish lawful presence from every single one of their U.S. customers. If Trump envisions making his new regulations apply only to money sent by Mexicans, it would open the door to charges of racial profiling. Logistics aside, the money transfer industry would no doubt fight these proposed new regulations with lawsuits.
Ironically, Trump’s plan to freeze remittances could backfire in a big way. The money that immigrants send to Mexico provides a lifeline to millions of people in a country without a social safety net. Especially in rural areas, remittances help Mexicans pay for housing, food and medicine. Were these funds to be cut off, it would make life harder for Mexico’s poor – which could trigger a wave of illegal immigration to the U.S.
There are practical concerns here as well. Trump estimates that he could build an effective border wall for $5-$10 billion. But experts say that a more realistic cost would be $25 billion or more, not to mention ongoing maintenance costs. Where would those additional funds come from?
On a broader level, Trump’s remittances plan is extremely shortsighted because it would potentially make an enemy of one of our longstanding allies. Mexico is our second-largest export market, and our third-largest trading partner. It would be the height of foolishness to engage in a trade war with Mexico at a time of global concern over terrorism and cybersecurity. So this plan illustrates how little Trump knows or even cares about international relations and diplomacy.
Not surprisingly, President Obama doesn’t think much of Trump’s proposal. He called it “half baked” and “impractical.” However, the scorn for Trump’s plan has been bipartisan. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) called it “naïve” and said that Trump did not understand the border situation. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) declared it “another unserious proposal from an unserious candidate.” And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that, “it doesn’t withstand scrutiny.”
It could be seen as a good thing that Trump is willing to go into a bit more detail on his immigration policy ideas. Yet he gets no points for his simple-minded remittances plan. It amounts to a little more than a high-level attempt at extortion. Instead of cutting off money transfers to Mexico, Trump’s proposal would likely lead to an explosion of black-market and underground transfers. Besides, consider who would suffer the most from implementing such a plan. It would be Mexico’s most impoverished citizens, people who have not immigrated here illegally or done anything wrong.
The idea that a billionaire would attempt to use them as his pawns in an international dispute is almost a caricature of a comic book villain.
Trump’s plan to pay for a border wall is legally dubious and economically unsound. Instead of “making America great again,” it only makes Trump look like a joke again.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.