Trump Calls Off His Dangerous Game of Chicken with Mexico

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

It’s just like Donald Trump to create a crisis and then claim victory when that crisis is averted.

Such is the case with Trump’s latest gambit with Mexico, the U.S.’ largest trading partner. Trump had threatened to place 5% tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico starting at midnight on Monday. But following a week of last-minute negotiations, Trump has suspended that plan after Mexico agreed to step up efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the southern U.S. border, specifically by clamping down on crossings at Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

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Trump announced the agreement on Twitter on Friday, after returning from a week abroad.

“I am pleased to inform you that The United States of America has reached a signed agreement with Mexico. The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended,” Trump tweeted.

A joint declaration by the U.S. and Mexico released by the State Department outlined in broad terms the steps that had been agreed to, mostly by Mexico. These include increased deployment of Mexican National Guard troops throughout the country, including sending 6,000 additional troops to Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

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Mexico also agreed to dismantle human smuggling and trafficking organizations, the statement said.

The Trump administration stated that it would expand the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum applications proceed through the U.S. immigration system. About 10,000 asylum seekers already have been sent back to Mexico under the program, which started in January and has since faced numerous setbacks.

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In April, a U.S. judge temporarily blocked the implementation of MPP, saying it likely violates U.S. immigration laws. Days later, a federal appeals court reversed that ruling, allowing the Trump administration to move forward with MPP pending the outcome of a lawsuit brought by immigration advocates, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights’ Project.

Migration reporter James Frederick noted that the move would “put a huge burden on Mexico to receive and care for asylum seekers.” He wrote that Mexico’s refugee agency has a paltry annual budget of $1.2 million and a permanent staff of only 48 people. “They’re expecting to receive 60,000 asylum seekers this year,” he tweeted after Trump’s announcement.

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Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged on Twitter that the disastrous tariffs by the U.S., which Trump had threatened to increase monthly by 5%, had been avoided for now. That comes as a relief to U.S. consumers and businesses, who would be the most affected by Trump’s tariffs, along with the U.S. economy.

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“Thanks to the support of all Mexicans, we managed to avoid tariffs being placed on Mexican products exported to the U.S.,” the Mexican president tweeted.

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Meanwhile, Trump continued tweeting about the issue on Saturday, adding vaguely and in all-caps that Mexico had agreed to buy “large quantities” of U.S. agricultural products from “our great patriot farmers.”

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He then attacked “Nervous Nancy Pelosi” and the Democrat-led House, who he claimed were “getting nothing done.”

Democrats weren’t impressed. “This is an historic night!” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sarcastically tweeted on Friday. “@realDonaldTrump has announced that he has cut a deal to ‘greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States.’ Now that that problem is solved, I’m sure we won’t be hearing any more about it in the future.”

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Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson pointed out that the efforts outlined in the current agreement may help reduce the number of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border in the short term, but they likely won’t solve the underlying causes of why migrants continue making the dangerous journey from Central American, through Mexico, and on to the U.S.: poverty, violence, and climate change.

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“In my experience you can do things more aggressively at the border that will have a sharp but short impact on numbers,” Johnson told The Washington Post. “But as long as underlying conditions in Central America persist, things will always revert back to the longer trend lines, and that’s why continuing aid to Central America is so important to solve larger problems.”

The joint declaration offered only broad language on recognizing “the strong links between promoting development and economic growth in southern Mexico and the success of promoting prosperity, good governance and security in Central America.”

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And last March, Trump had threatened to cut $500 million in aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras earmarked for programs to create jobs, reduce poverty, and fight gangs in those countries.

Trump also had threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border over immigration, but he later backed away from the threat.

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Mexican exports to the U.S. totaled $378 billion last year, ranging from avocadoes to car parts. And apprehensions along the southern U.S. border have increased recently to 133,000 last month alone, which is twice as many people as were apprehended last December, according to the Post.

As the 2020 presidential election in the U.S. slowly approaches, this may not be Trump’s only attempt to pick a fight with Mexico over tariffs. This week’s joint declaration states that, “Both parties also agree that, in the event the measures adopted do not have the expected results, they will take further actions.”

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Update, Saturday, 5:40 p.m. ET: So...about that “deal.” As it turns out, Trump didn’t get anything new from Mexico that hadn’t already been promised months ago, according to a report by The New York Times. Shocking! Read more here.

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