The declared National Emergency is mired in the courts for the rest of his term. Border facilities are overwhelmed by precisely the kind of migrants that a wall won’t block: families with children who are crossing at designated border posts and legally requesting asylum. We have an emergency, for sure, but not the one a wall would solve.
So instead of working constructively to deal with the problems he has, Trump creates new problems by lashing out at the three source countries of the current wave of migrants (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the “Northern Triangle”), and at the country through which they travel, Mexico. Specifically, he has decided to cut off aid to the Northern Triangle, and to close the border with Mexico to all trade.
As with so many of Trump’s gut-driven policies, this would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. These people are mostly fleeing lawless conditions and collapsing economies that put their lives and their livings in peril. Their governments are entirely incapable of protecting them from gang violence and are unable to provide the economic opportunities that would induce people to stay home. Cutting off aid just guarantees that they will be even less able to provide security and prosperity. They certainly cannot stop people from heading north.
The countries Trump is now targeting are in the shape they’re in because of decades of US efforts to “help” them. The country we’re not helping, Nicaragua, is in better shape.
Interestingly, these three countries are the ones the Reagan administration shaped to be our allies in the struggle to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Well, we are still trying to get rid of the Sandinistas, who are no saints, but we are not seeing thousands of Nicaraguans fleeing northward. The countries Trump is now targeting are in the shape they’re in because of decades of US efforts to “help” them. The country we’re not helping, Nicaragua, is in better shape.
So by cutting off aid, Trump not only undermines whatever capacity these governments might have to address their countries’ problems and thereby keep more of their citizens home, he’s also undercutting the very governments that the US has set up as our allies, making it more likely that new governments will emerge there that are less supportive of US priorities (i.e., more like the Sandinistas).
Ironically, Trump could solve the whole problem and do a lot more for Central America if he adopted a plan I have previously advocated: just pay them to stay home. Rather than sending aid to corrupt governments to line their pockets, just register each refugee and send them a monthly check as long as they stay home. It needn’t be much: these are poor people used to living on a dollar or two per day. This would be a lot cheaper than building a wall, and far more effective.
Meanwhile, after successfully insisting on a revision of NAFTA, which he secured after long and hard negotiations with Mexico and Canada, and which is still pending in the US Congress, Trump impulsively throws it all away by threatening to close the border with Mexico unless Mexico stops all the Central American migrants. He’s dealing with a new president in Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) who is a more left-wing populist than Trump, but who has nonetheless tried very hard to avoid confrontation with Trump. AMLO has in fact helped Trump by setting up holding facilities on the Mexican side for refugees awaiting processing. By delivering this ultimatum Trump pretty much guarantees an end to that cooperation and threatens thousands of jobs involved in cross-border trade.
Trump has no interest in solving problems. He thrives on grievance, and if he runs short, he’ll make more.