Make Mexico a Good Neighbor Again
The British author G.K. Chesterton observed that “the Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” This reflection rings true for the United States and Mexico regarding our out-of-control border. Mexico is not, of course, our enemy. But neither does it act like a friend lately, and the unwillingness of our supposed ally to be a good neighbor pushed President Trump to take strong action.
In a Thursday tweet he warned of an imminent 5% tariff on Mexican imports to America. A White House statement also threatened to gradually ratchet that levy higher unless “the illegal immigration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico.”
To be sure, such bold action against a key trade partner carries risks. But the far greater danger lies in tolerating an unmitigated flow of economic migrants, mostly from Central America, passing through Mexico to then enter the United States and exploit our country’s generous asylum provisions, at a recent rate of over 100,000 per month. Just two days ago, over 1,000 people trespassed together, the largest such group ever intercepted at the border, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The vast majority of these migrants do not represent legitimate asylum cases, as evidenced by the extremely low historic rate of successful claims by similar applicants from Central America. In fact, asylum specifically exists to protect refugees fleeing immediate persecution because of their beliefs or identity. Though economic and crime conditions are difficult in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, these are not countries of general political repression. As President Obama rightly declared in 2014, “Typically, refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood.” After all, plenty of American citizens live in tough circumstances too, and their well-being will certainly not be ameliorated by an influx of millions of unvetted and impoverished refugees into our land. Moreover, if these economic migrants truly only sought the safety of asylum, they would apply for it in Mexico rather than traverse that large country to reach our border.
But Mexico has been all too willing to allow its temporary trouble become our permanent problem. These migrants move across Mexico, often in large caravans, with at least the tacit approval of our southern neighbor, and sometimes with actual active assistance.
Since Mexico refuses to contain this dangerous inflow, the United States must use the compelling leverage of economic pressure. More broadly, an important principle arises here: reciprocity. From China to Mexico, if countries want access to the American market, then they must act like responsible partners. America desires peace and prosperity with all nations, but will not be abused. If China wishes to continue as a trade partner, it must cease the systemic theft of our intellectual property, technologies, and cease hacking our critical systems. If Mexico desires real friendship with the United States, including the benefit of selling into the world’s greatest consumer market, then it must share in the burden of confronting this migrant calamity.
Predictably, elites of American business and media already bemoan this move by President Trump. But keep in mind that the captains of industry normally prioritize cheap products and cheap labor ahead of the interests of working-class citizens. In addition, few of the armchair critics in the TV newsrooms of New York and Washington will live with the on-the-street consequences of potentially millions of refugees suddenly spread throughout our country, and on the taxpayers’ dime. Just as predictably, these Trump-haters will claim that race somehow motivates this confrontation, because most of the migrants are not white. But in reality, Hispanic citizens of America suffer the most from a lawless border, both in terms of preventable crime from dangerous actors mixed among the migrants and also from a massive influx of unfair competition in the labor markets.
With this tariff maneuver, President Trump shows seriousness about implementing one of his 2016 messages: that global movement is marked by sovereignty, economic nationalism, and the diffusion of power. It is neither xenophobic nor small-minded for any country to determine the standards and processes to become a legal immigrant. Nor is it in any way compassionate to encourage or tolerate lawlessness along a porous border, which has led to horrific human exploitation, especially within Mexico.
America First does not mean America Alone, and this pressure should coax Mexico into fulfilling its international responsibilities. If it does not, then President Trump recognizes the strong hand the United States possesses in the international trade “poker game.” If necessary, I encourage him to also consider taxes or limitations on remittances back to Mexico from America. But hopefully, economic escalation will not be warranted after this initial salvo. Part of Making America Great Again is making Mexico a good neighbor again.