President Trump announced Thursday evening that in his latest effort to crack down on illegal migration he would impose punitive tariffs on imports from Mexico. His intent is to pressure the Mexican government into stopping the flow of migrants, mostly families and unaccompanied children from Central America, who cross the border seeking asylum in the U.S.
The tariffs, which Trump is imposing without congressional approval, would begin on June 10 at 5 percent on all Mexican goods and products, and increase incrementally each month up to a maximum of 25 percent if Mexico does not take effective action to ensure that the “illegal migration crisis is alleviated,” the success of which will be “determined in our sole discretion and judgment.”
On a call with reporters Thursday evening, Mick Mulvaney, who serves as both Office of Management and Budget director and acting White House chief of staff, confirmed that a specific percentage or other measurement of success had intentionally not been set.
“We will handle this on an ad hoc basis,” Mulvaney said. “We are going to judge success here by number of people crossing the border and that number needs to start coming down immediately in a significant substantial number.”
Asked what effect this move was expected to have on the U.S. economy — and whether the president understood that it was Americans who would effectively be paying the tariffs, not Mexico — Mulvaney stated: “ Illegal immigration comes at a cost. The American taxpayer is paying for what’s going on at the border.”
Record numbers of families and unaccompanied children in particular have crossed the southern border in recent months, the majority of them from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, overwhelming U.S. border officials and filling immigration detention facilities beyond capacity. The U.S. Department Of Health and Human Services recently estimated that it is on track to provide care to more unaccompanied immigrant children in fiscal year 2019 than in its entire previous history.
Earlier Thursday, an official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection briefed reporters on a group of 1,036 who were apprehended after illegally crossing the border near El Paso, Texas, early Wednesday morning. The CBP official, who declined to speak on the record, said that the incident was part of a trend of 100 or more migrants crossing the border as a group, which the official described as a “highly lucrative” tactic for smuggling organizations.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan also referenced the involvement of smuggling organizations in facilitating mass migration from Central America and noted that cracking down on such transnational criminal organizations was one of three broad steps the administration would like to see Mexico take. The other two involve stepping up security efforts at the southern border with Guatemala and working with the U.S. to “align on asylum,” an apparent reference to the Trump administration’s desire to enter into a “safe third country” agreement with Mexico that would allow the U.S. to deny Central Americans asylum seekers in the U.S. on the basis that Mexico is a safe alternative.
However, Mulvaney suggested that Mexico could take immediate action to prevent the tariffs from even going into effect, stating emphatically, “We do not want to do this.”
“We’re interested in seeing the Mexican government act tonight, tomorrow,” said Mulvaney. “We’re hopeful that they will.”
Just hours before the White House revealed its latest effort to crack down on migration flows to the southwest border, Vice President Mike Pence met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa to discuss the Trump administration’s efforts to get Congress to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Asked whether the new tariffs on Mexican goods would make the U.S. in violation of the USMCA, Mulvaney insisted that “The two are absolutely not linked.”
“These are not tariffs as part of a trade dispute, these are tariffs as part of an immigration matter,” he said.
However, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is among Trump’s strongest allies on immigration in Congress, expressed concern that “following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA,” and questioned the legality of the president’s actions.
“This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent," Grassley said.
“I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them,” said Grassley, according to the Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim. “I urge the president to consider other options.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, on the other hand, expressed his support for the president’s decision to impose tariffs on Mexico, tweeting “The illegal flows from Central America must stop and Mexico needs to do more.”
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