For the first time, Donald Trump has disclosed that his proposed wall on the border with Mexico – one of the centerpieces of his campaign – would cost about $8 billion. If so, it would be the biggest waste of money in recent history, even if it were paid for in Mexican pesos.
Asked Tuesday on MSNBC how he would pay for the wall, Trump repeated his claim that Mexico would pay for it. Asked how he would get Mexico to pay for it, he responded simply, “You tell ‘em, ‘You’re gonna pay for it.’”
Needless to say, there was a collective explosion of laughter from the Mexican side of the border.
When I called former Mexican President Vicente Fox to ask about Trump’s proposed wall, he responded, “He’s crazy!”
He added that Trump would trigger a nationalistic counter-reaction in Mexico, isolate the United States from one of its biggest trading partners and hurt the U.S. economy.
There are at least five reasons why Trump’s border wall would be stupid.
First, there is no serious study showing that there is currently an avalanche of undocumented immigrants to this country.
On the contrary, the Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies of New York, based on U.S. Census figures, say that the overall number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has fallen from a record 12 million in 2007 to 10.9 million today.
Second, about 40 percent of migrants who enter the U.S. illegally come in by plane and overstay their visas, U.S. officials say.
Third, the number of undocumented Mexicans moving to the United States is unlikely to increase in the future for demographic reasons.
Mexico’s birthrate has dropped from more than six children per woman in the 1960s to 2.2 children per woman today; the pool of Mexican young people, who are the most likely to migrate, has shrunk.
Fourth, a wall along part of the border would push potential migrants to cross through more remote – and dangerous – border areas, raise the fees of people smugglers, and ensure that large numbers of undocumented people stay in the United States.
Many Mexican men who now come to the United States to do seasonal work in farms and return to Mexico in the winters would find it hard to keep circulating between the two countries. They would stay here, and – in the absence of massive numbers of newcomers – increase the number of undocumented residents here.
Fifth, Trump’s proposed wall, along with his statements depicting most Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, his vows to renegotiate the NAFTA free trade deal with Mexico and his calls for the deportation of 11 million undocumented people would trigger a nationalistic, anti-American reaction in Mexico, the rest of Latin America and much of the world.
This may be dismissed as irrelevant by many Trump followers, but a trade war with Mexico would hurt the United States, too. Mexico and Canada are the two largest U.S. export markets, and U.S. exports to its two neighbors support more than 3 million American jobs, according to figures from the U.S. Trade Representative.
My opinion: Like most demagogues, Trump is playing on people’s ignorance and xenophobic instincts to present himself as a new messiah. But his proposed wall across the border would be a monumental waste of money, a symbol of isolationism and a recipe for America’s decline as a global power.