Why Trump's proposal to make Mexico pay for his wall won't work

Posted April 12, 2016

On Tuesday, Republican front-runner Donald Trump released a memo further outlining his proposal to build a 1,000-mile-long, 35-foot-high concrete wall along the Mexico border.

Trump has vowed to force Mexico to pay for the wall, a feat about which many, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox, have been skeptical.

Now, however, Trump has detailed a plan to "compel" Mexico to finance the project, which includes imposing trade tariffs and invoking a section of the anti-terrorist Patriot Act barring remittances to Mexico.

This means Trump will prevent Mexicans living in the United States from wiring money to family members living in Mexico, a practice on which many Mexican families depend for income.

Trump has also proposed cutting off visas to Mexican citizens or increasing visa fees to further restrict illegal immigration and finance the wall project.

Trump anticipates the Mexican government will eventually crack under the pressure and pay the $5 billion to $10 billion he demands.

"We have the moral high ground here, and all the leverage. It is time we use it in order to Make America Great Again," the campaign memo states.

Here are some of the reasons some believe making Mexico pay for the wall won't work:

Trump is not asking for enough money

Trump claims the wall will only cost $8 billion, but according to the Washington Post, Trump's estimate is a real whopper.

For reference, the Post looked at the barrier Israel constructed separating Israeli and Palestinian territories. The 326-mile wall cost $2.6 billion, so a 1,000-mile wall should theoretically cost $7.99 billion, a figure the Post calls "suspiciously similar" to Trump's purported cost.

In reality, however, only one-tenth of Israel's barrier is actually composed of a 25-foot concrete wall. Most of it is just fencing, similar to the fence that currently exists along the U.S.-Mexico border.

If we take into account only the cost of the concrete portion of Israel's wall, Trump's 1,000-foot wall would cost $42 billion, reports the Post — and that's just for a 25-foot-high wall. Trump has proposed to build a 35- to 40-foot wall, or as he calls it, "a real wall."

Mexico won't pay anyway

While Trump plans to impose burdens on Mexican trade and remittances, he may be underestimating the resolve of Mexican officials.

When Excelsior newspaper (in Spanish) asked Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto in what scenario Mexico would be willing to pay for the wall, Peña Nieto's response was simple:

"There is no scenario," he said.

Peña Nieto then compared Trump's rise to those of Hitler and Mussolini, saying that Trump proposes "very easy, simple solutions to problems that are obviously not that easy to solve."

Other Mexican officials have similarly scoffed at Trump's demands.

"Donald Trump is an ambitious but not exactly very well-informed man," former Mexican President Felipe Calderon told CNBC. "I don't want to say ignorant, but he is not very well-informed."

Mexican Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray's remarks to CNN echoed those of Peña Nieto.

"We have enormous necessities and much more important uses for the public budget, which comes from the taxes that Mexicans pay," he said. "And, of course, it would never be used in any scenario to pay for a project of this nature."

The plan will yield more immigrants, not fewer

In a press briefing Tuesday, President Barack Obama called Trump's methods "draconian" and that hurting the Mexican economy may lead to counterproductive consequences.

"If (the Mexican economy) is collapsing, it actually sends more immigrants north because they can't find jobs back in Mexico," Obama said.

Contrary to popular belief, a recent study by Pew Research Center suggests that in recent years more Mexicans are leaving the United States than entering.

Between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. saw a net decrease of 140,000 Mexicans. The main reason for Mexicans leaving the U.S. was to reunite with their families, says Pew.

This trend could, of course, reverse if the Mexican economy were to tank.

"We've got big issues around the world, and people expect the president of the United States ... to put forward policies that have been examined, analysed, are effective, and where unintended consequences have been taken into account," said Obama. "They don't expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House. We can't afford that."

twitter: @zamturner


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