President Donald Trump, hammering on a favorite theme, on Friday said he was considering slapping Mexico with an unspecified economic penalty to crack down on what he describes as a crisis of undocumented immigration and drug trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Although Trump has several times linked the issues of illegal immigration and drug smuggling as he tries to tighten border security, much of the drug trade is not carried out by migrants but by professional crime gangs that send narcotics to the United States in vehicles through official ports of entry.
Praising Mexico for moving recently against drug traffickers, Trump said, “If they continue that, everything will be fine. If they don’t we’re going to tariff their cars at 25 percent.”
“Also, I’m looking at an economic penalty for all of the drugs that are coming in through the southern border and killing our people,” Trump told reporters in Washington before departing for southern California where he will visit the border.
The Republican president’s latest pronouncements, issued informally in rapid succession, are in response to a rising number of migrants, many of them families with children, traveling northward from Central America through Mexico and to the southern U.S. border.
Trump said the drug-related tariff would supplant provisions of a trade deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, known as USMCA, which has not been approved by Congress.
In a Twitter post on Friday morning, Trump repeated a threat to close the border if Mexico “stops apprehending and bringing the illegals back to where they came from…”
“I am looking at an economic penalty for the 500 Billion Dollars in illegal DRUGS that are shipped and smuggled through Mexico and across our Southern Border. Over 100,00 Americans die each year, sooo many families destroyed!” the president tweeted.
It was not immediately clear what other penalties he was considering. The White House did not respond to a request for elaboration.
It also was unclear where Trump got the $500 billion figure.
Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the amount of drugs smuggled into the United States annually was probably in the range of $50-$60 billion. He emphasized that it was fueled by U.S. demand.
“He’s blaming Mexico for our drug problem,” Vigil said, adding that his words could hurt bilateral cooperation in battling drug-trafficking. “The president should focus on reducing the demand and facilitating drug treatment centers here in the United States,” he added.
CHANGE IN MEXICO
Mexico’s initial approach to immigrant caravans from Central America was to freely hand out humanitarian visas with the goal of allowing people to stay and work legally in Mexico. But the government backed away from that policy after a surge in those requesting the documents and amid criticism from Washington.
Mexico’s foreign minister told Reuters last week that more could be done to register immigrants. Since then Mexico has taken a more rigorous approach to interviewing and registering immigrants from Central America, Haiti and Cuba.
Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said this week that humanitarian visas would be given out, but with a focus on the most vulnerable groups. On Thursday, a Mexican federal police plane flew dozens of Haitians home.
On Friday, the Migration Institute said on Twitter that 57 Cubans were sent back to Cuba by plane in the morning. More than 60 Cubans were flown home last week.
For years, Trump’s solution to illegal immigration was to build a wall on the border, which he originally said Mexico would pay for. After Mexico refused, he asked U.S. taxpayers to pay for it, but Congress refused to provide the money.
He has since tried to circumvent Congress and seize the money for his wall from other accounts by declaring a national emergency, but that strategy is mired in the courts.
Twenty states have filed a motion to block Trump’s attempt to divert federal funds through an emergency declaration, the New York state attorney general said on Friday.
“This wall is unnecessary, and an abuse of power that will take away resources that could be used to help Americans across our nation,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said in a Twitter post.
Democrats have generally opposed Trump’s wall proposal. Instead, they tout other types of enhanced border security that they argue would be more effective and less costly than a wall.
Trump will visit Calexico, California, for a tour of the border on Friday, just days after also announcing that he would end U.S. aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, even though the money is designed to discourage migration. Also this week, Trump called for drastically tightening U.S. asylum law to discourage the Central American migrants.