Staff | Torstar, Jan 25 2017
Fear and humiliation turned to anger and betrayal Wednesday in Mexico, as U.S. President Donald Trump made good on his campaign threats against a neighbour and ally of nearly 100 years.
Trump signed two executive orders Wednesday, the first authorizing the construction of his promised wall along the Mexican border, and the second blocking federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities that don’t arrest illegal immigrants. The orders also call for 10,000 additional immigration officers and 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
The move, which is a dramatic shift in U.S. immigration policy, was not unexpected, but the timing caught Mexico off guard, coming just days before President Enrique Pena Nieto is due to meet Trump at the White House.
“We are stunned,” said Agustin Barrios Gomez, a former Mexican congressman and co-chair for North America of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. “There is a consensus building that we don’t want to negotiate under threat. American national security and prosperity directly depend on a stable and co-operative Mexico.”
Mexicans across the political spectrum called for Pena, who has never agreed to pay for the wall, to cancel his Jan. 31 visit. So far the leader, whose approval ratings are below 25 per cent, has opted for conciliation over confrontation.
Trump’s orders give the Department of Homeland Security six months to deliver a report detailing how to build the wall, which will be initially funded by money from Congress.
Trump continues to insist Mexico will repay the estimated $8-billion cost of the 1,600-kilometre wall through a variety of means, including increasing fees on visa applications, charging more for border crossing cards and/or taxing remittances of Mexican Americans.
The second order broadens the definition of who immigration agents can apprehend and deport within the U.S., allowing agents to adopt a broader definition of “criminal.”
Although Pena didn’t officially respond Wednesday, top-ranking officials threatened to pull out of negotiations over the reworking of the North American Free Trade Agreement if Trump continues to insist Mexico fund the wall project.
“There are very clear red lines that have to be drawn,” Ildefonso Guajardo, secretary of the economy, told Televisa on Tuesday. It’s a question of respecting sovereignty.” Guajardo travelled to Washington on Wednesday with Mexico’s foreign minister.
Vicente Fox, a former Mexican president, was more forthright, tweeting to Trump’s press secretary: “Sean Spicer, I’ve said this to @realDonaldTrump and now I’ll tell you: Mexico is not going to pay for that f—ing wall.”
Jorge Castaneda, a former foreign minister, told the New York Times: “It’s like we are Charlie Brown and they are Lucy with the football. Pena is a weak president in a weak country at a weak moment, but he has to find a way to get some official backbone.”
The U.S. may have as much to lose as Mexico if the countries stop co-operating on trade and national security, including drug smuggling and migration.
NAFTA, which includes Canada, is the world’s largest trade agreement and the region is an interdependent global supply chain where parts often cross borders several times while products are assembled. More than six million jobs in the U.S. depend on Mexico. Fully 40 cents of every dollar the U.S. imports from Mexico comes from content produced in America.
Mexico would have liked to present a common front with Canada in any NAFTA renegotiations, but that is unlikely to happen, say experts. Canada does not share the same border and security issues.
“Canada doesn’t see common cause with Mexico and has a long history of looking out for itself,” noted Ted Alden, a trade expert with the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy.
Canada also does not have a trade surplus with the U.S., while Mexico does.
Trump has not clearly explained how tearing up NAFTA will create jobs. Although some manufacturing jobs were lost to free trade, many were eliminated because of automation and improved productivity.
The U.S. should have focused more on retraining workers, cutting corporate taxes, investing in infrastructure and helping workers hurt by import competition, Alden said.