The latest numbers from our southern border are staggering. The Department of Homeland Security recorded more than 133,000 illegal crossings in May 2019, which is a one-month record stretching back seven years. The flood of Central American migrants has turned into a tsunami. Border patrol is completely overwhelmed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holding facilities are overflowing. And there are indications the illegal migrant invasion will get much worse before it gets better.
Recent reporting from the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador make it clear that the word has gotten out about asylum as America’s weak immigration underbelly. Whole villages are emptying out in response. Those who haven’t yet joined the caravans making their way across Mexico to U.S. border sectors like Rio Grande, El Paso, and San Diego are concerned that they will be left out. At the current rate, more than 1 million Central Americans will illegally enter the United States in 2019. A vast majority will stay here forever.
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The Trump administration knows that Mexico is the key to ending this illegal immigration deluge. So far, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been unwilling to take the steps necessary to prevent thousands of Central Americans from traversing his country en route to the United States. But that may be changing. President Donald Trump recently presented the Mexican government with a choice: take action to stop the caravan flow or brace yourself for tariffs. As of this writing, the White House and Mexico have come to an agreement to avoid the implementation of a 5% tariff on all goods coming from Mexico into the U.S. Trump’s nontraditional approach may have paid off.
His critics, however, will give him no credit for any change in Mexico’s approach to the migrant crisis. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues will also offer no policy solutions of their own. The simple fact is, the Democratic Party does not see the migrant crisis as a “crisis” at all. The party’s electoral fortunes benefit from the phenomenon of overwhelmingly poor, non-English speakers scheming to get around our immigration laws en masse. Until a few months ago, much of the mainstream media refused to even use the word “crisis,” except to debunk it. Now, with illegal crossings routinely hitting thousands per day, the media narrative has shifted to view this as a “humanitarian crisis.”
Tariffs may have moved Mexico in the right direction – for now – on the migrant issue, but it remains to be seen if its new attitude will hold.
Tariffs may have moved Mexico in the right direction – for now – on the migrant issue, but it remains to be seen if its new attitude will hold. Mexico has its own problems, including its worst year ever for murders (more than 33,000) in 2018. The drug cartels pushing opioids into America – responsible for killing tens of thousands of our citizens every year – may be at their all-time zenith. Assuming Mexico even wants to help Trump, it’s not clear its domestic politics will support collaboration with the Americans to stop the caravans.
But there are many ways this could go south, so to speak. Mexico could fail to meet its obligation – or Trump’s expectations – on emergency measures to hold back the migrant tide, triggering a series of tariff raises that will affect a whole range of businesses on both sides of the border. That would have a lot more bite than the overhyped “trade war” with China has to date.
Nobody knows how the migrant surge will end, or if it will end.
If tariffs are implemented, nobody really knows what their price would be. The long-term economic implications of Trump’s latest gambit will have to play out. Mexico is our third-largest trading partner, with more than $550 billion exchanging hands in 2018. The tariffs Trump wanted to hit Mexico with were set to escalate each month by 5% after June.
The 2020 election factors into all of this as well. The single unassailable feature of Trump’s first three years has been a strong and growing economy. By the numbers, unemployment, GDP, and the stock market continue to be talking points that pro-Trump voices can unleash on their opponents at will. If Trump adds a relatively minor tariff spat with China onto a much bigger trade street fight with Mexico, spooked markets could become a weakness in the polls that hurt the White House next November.
On the other hand, if Trump manages to shut down the Central American migrant flow through his own skills of negotiation, it would finally give his re-election campaign a positive story to tell on immigration. The current occupant of the Oval Office won the presidency in no small part because of his hard-line immigration stance. That lawlessness and bureaucratic chaos currently reign at our southern border is not a good look for the “build the wall” president. Tariff threats that lead to Mexican government cooperation would ease some of the base’s concerns on this score and allow some undecided voters to tell themselves, “Maybe he can fix it with four more years.”
Nobody knows how the migrant surge will end, or if it will end. The courts have been routinely shutting Trump down with universal injunctions that are as legally flimsy as they are politically obvious. Trump tries to reverse Barack Obama’s DACA decision, and a federal judge stops him. Trump wants to set up a “safe third country” agreement for migrants in Mexico, and another federal judge stops him. Between the judiciary and the Democrats, sometimes it must feel to Trump that he’s a president stripped of his predecessor’s powers.
In The Art of the Deal, Trump (or rather, his ghostwriter) wrote that “the worst of times often create the best opportunities to make good deals.” Yes, as humans have known for millennia, a crisis is an opportunity. The border is currently in crisis. We will soon see if Trump takes advantage of it, or if it takes away his second term.
Buck Sexton is host of the nationally syndicated talk radio program, The Buck Sexton Show, heard more than 100 stations across the country. He’s also a former CIA and NYC police department intelligence officer.