Bait Switch Switch Bait: Trump’s Wall

It’s not like the discussion of immigration is some theoretical exercise in Nevada; the population is 28.1% Hispanic (as of 2015.)  Discussions about “building a wall” present blatantly white supremacist imagery to some and a direct threat to the familial security of others. 

Along this spectrum there are economic concerns (they take jobs) although we know from economic studies immigration tends to create jobs. [Atlantic, Business Insider, AmImC] Also there’s a spectrum of anti-immigration fervor reaching back to the ages when “the French would spread their revolution,” the “Germans refused to speak English,” “No Irish Need Apply,” Italians, Jews, and Eastern Europeans were not to be trusted; and, the Chinese were to be excluded.  Trumpsterism taps into this egregious strain of American political thought and was manifest in “Build the Wall.”

The Something For Nothing crowd was also appeased by the notion that the Mexican government was somehow supposed to pay for this.  How much of this was an almost pure con job is well illustrated by comments made by candidate Trump back in January 2016:

“Mr. Trump invents his positions as he goes along. His supporters say they don’t care. What they may not know is how deliberately he is currying their favor. At a meeting with The Times’s editorial writers, Mr. Trump talked about the art of applause lines. “You know,” he said of his events, “if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall!’ and they go nuts.” [NYT]

Nuts they may have gone, but the Mexican government has made it clear since August 12, 2015 it has no intention of paying for any wall Trump may construct.  The Mexican government restated this point on November 9, 2016:

“Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu reiterated that Mexico would not pay for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. border. The threat that Mexico will pay for the wall was a key feature of his stump speeches.” [ADN]

As it became ever more obvious that the Mexican government wasn’t going to get out its check book, the Trump campaign offered other suggestions as to how “Mexico would pay.”

If the Mexican government refused to write a check for the wall, of say $5 to $10 billion, then the administration would include wire transfers as part of a plan to disallow monetary transfers from the U.S. to Mexico made by undocumented individuals.  The obvious problem with this approach is that there is nothing to prevent someone who is a legal resident or citizen of the U.S. from making the transfer.

“It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5 (billion)-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year,” Trump said on his campaign website.” [Politifact]

It’s just as easy a decision to have someone who is a citizen or legal resident facilitate the transfer.  It’s also unclear what percentage of the transfers are already made by those who are in this country perfectly legally, and what percentage comes from those who are without documents.

Okay, if this is fuzzy, then Trump added another element – fees.

“Trump said on his campaign website that he would generate money for the wall by increasing fees for visas and border crossing cards and by enforcing trade tariffs.Experts have told us there isn’t a connection between the U.S.-Mexico trade deficit (about $50 billion) and finding money for a wall.”  [Politifact]

There’s no connection between trade and “the wall” construction, and increasing fees for visas and border crossing cards isn’t likely to generate the kind of revenue needed to say “the Mexicans paid for it.”  Nor did the Trump campaign clarify that border crossing cards are also issued to Canadians.  Eventually we have to get to the matter of how much this proposal is going to cost – anyone or everyone.

If his followers had pictures of a “really high” precast concrete wall, they were shortly to be faced with a shrinking image.

“Trump has said the wall could cost $8 billion to $12 billion, be made of precast concrete, and rise 35 to 40 feet, or 50 feet, or higher. He’s said the wall doesn’t need to run the nearly 2,000 miles of the border, but half of that because of natural barriers.”  [Politifact]

Now it’s only half the 2000 mile border… pedestrian fencing costs range from $400,000 to $15.1 million per mile (average $3.9 million per mile) and vehicle fencing ranges from $200,000 to $1.8 million per mile. “Topography, type of fencing and materials used, land acquisitions and labor costs all impact costs per mile.” [Politifact] [GAO pdf]

By January 2017 the Wall was reduced to fencing.

“Most experts viewed such promises as unrealistic and impractical, and Trump himself sometimes allowed that the wall would not need to span the entire length of the border, thanks to natural barriers like rivers. After winning the election, he said he’d be open to stretches of fencing.”  [TPM]

Thus much for the precast concrete rising from 35 to 50 feet.  And, who’s going to pay for it? At the moment it’s the American taxpayer:

“Under the evolving plan, the Trump administration would rely on existing legislation authorizing fencing and other technology along the southern border. Congress would be asked to ensure that enough money is appropriated to take additional new steps — but would not pass a stand-alone bill authorizing a big new wall. CNN separately reported that Trump would ask Congress to appropriate US tax payer money to pay for the “wall”.” [TPM AP]

The evolution is almost complete. From Wall to Fence. From Mexico to U.S. taxpayer.  The president-elect intends to “negotiate” with the Mexican government about paying for it.  

“We’re going to get reimbursed,” Mr. Trump said during a brief telephone interview. “But I don’t want to wait that long. But you start, and then you get reimbursed.” [NYT]

He now says:

“In the interview, the president-elect insisted that Mexico would ultimately reimburse the United States. He said that payment would most likely emerge from his efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Mexican government.

“It’s going to be part of everything,” Mr. Trump said of the cost of building the wall. “We are going to be making a much better deal. It’s a deal that never should have been signed.” [NYT]

We already know that there’s no realistic connection between trade deficits and money to “build a wall,” or even to stretch a fence.  Here are a few of those previously cited experts:

“Trump’s connection of the trade deficit with a Mexican border fence is just nonsense,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Just because the Mexican economy has a trade surplus relative to the United States doesn’t mean the Mexican government has the resources to build a border wall. It would be like me threatening my neighbor to build a new fence or else I’ll stop shopping at Walmart.”  

Mark Perry, a University of Michigan professor and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the trade deficit is based mostly on trading and investment by private individuals and companies — not the government itself.

“It’s not like there is $54 billion sitting around somewhere in Mexico, like a magic pile of dollars, that could be used to build a wall,” he said.

The Mexican government does not have adequate funds to pay for health, education or roads — much less build a wall, said Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think tank that analyzes globalization.

“The trade surplus does not represent money in some idle bank account controlled by the Mexican government,” he said.” [Politifact]

What are we going to do? “Stretch a Fence!” Who’s going to pay for it? We are!

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