By Susan Heavey
Donald Trump proposed on Tuesday forcing Mexico to pay for his planned wall along the US border by threatening to block remittances from illegal immigrants that he said amounted to “welfare” for poor families in Mexico that their government does not provide.
The Republican presidential candidate’s campaign said in a memo that if elected in November, Trump would use a US anti-terrorism law to cut off money transfers from illegal immigrants to Mexico unless it made a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion for the wall.
Trump’s pledge to build the wall along the nearly 3,200-km US-Mexico border has been a much-touted highlight of his platform targeting illegal immigration in the United States. Mexico has rejected paying for the wall. It is unclear how much the wall would cost, and such a project would be rife with legal and political hurdles.
“On day 1,” a Trump administration would propose a rule mandating companies such as Western Union Co to require customers to provide documentation of their legal status in the United States, the memo said.
“Mexico will immediately protest,” it said, but if the country pays for the wall, Trump would drop the remittance plan, according to the memo, which was dated March 31 but made public on Tuesday.
“It’s an easy decision for Mexico,” his campaign said, adding the country receives about $24 billion a year in remittances from Mexican nationals in the United States, most of them in the country illegally.
“It (remittances) serves as de facto welfare for poor families in Mexico. There is no significant social safety net provided by the state in Mexico,” the memo said.
Trump, front-runner to be the Republican presidential nominee for the Nov. 8 election, was correct in his figure for remittances, although it is unclear what portion comes from Mexicans living in the country illegally.
According to the World Bank Remittances project, flows from the US to Mexico in 2014, the last full year for which it has data, were nearly $24 billion.
‘HEAT’ OF ELECTORAL PROCESS
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto appeared to dismiss the proposal as campaign rhetoric.
“The (Mexican) Presidency has no comment on any opinion made in the heat of the electoral process to choose candidates for the US presidency,” the president’s office said in a text message to Reuters.
Pena Nieto and other officials have repeatedly said they will not pay for any wall. Last month, some Mexicans turned to burning effigies of Trump in protest.
Any move to target payments sent home by people living in the United States could have a crushing financial effect in Mexico, the leading recipient of US remittances.
Trump’s proposal could also affect banks and companies that handle wire transfers, which also include MoneyGram International Inc and PayPal Holdings Inc, which last year acquired digital money transfer provider Xoom.
Representatives for the companies did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Trump has angered many on both sides of the border with his comments about Mexico. In addition to the wall, he has also accused Mexico of sending rapists and drug runners to the United States. Democrats and many Republicans have repeatedly condemned his comments as inflammatory and unrealistic.
But his remarks have been enthusiastically received by his supporters, especially by white working-class voters.
In the memo, Trump’s campaign repeated its pledge to also target visas, either by cancelling them or charging higher fees for Mexicans to visit the United States.
“The cost of a border wall is nothing compared to the hundreds of billions we spend year after year providing services and benefits to illegal immigrants,” said the memo, first reported by The Washington Post.
The memo also cited imposing trade tariffs or enforcing existing trade rules as a way of forcing Mexico to pay.
The memo emerged as Republican candidate Ted Cruz appeared set to beat Trump in Wisconsin’s primary contest on Tuesday, a win he would hope would mark him as the best alternative to the New York billionaire.