Every time Donald Trump promised that Mexico would finance a monument to American xenophobia across the length of our shared border, the mainstream media laughed. The notion was farcical, even by the deranged standard set by the mogul’s other policy proposals. Why would any government ever fund the quixotic boondoggle of a vastly wealthier neighboring state? For months, Trump’s only answer seemed to be that Mexico would simply be cowed into doing so by the Donald’s supreme toughness.
It’s a dangerous thing to laugh at Donald Trump.
It turns out there are a lot of crazy things an American president can do if he has the willpower, some creative attorneys, and the capacity for great cruelty. (This is a lesson we should have learned by now.) On Tuesday, Trump revealed his plan to extort $5 billion to $10 billion from our ally to the south: use an anti-terrorism provision in the Patriot Act to freeze all money transfers from the United States to Mexico, until the ransom is paid. In other words, the Trump administration would intercept all the money that Mexican immigrants send home to their dependent family members and wait for the suffering of women and children to force Mexico’s hand.
“On day 2 Mexico will immediately protest. They receive approximately $24 billion in remittances from Mexican nationals working in the United States,” Trump writes in a memo sent to the Washington Post. “It serves as de facto welfare for poor families in Mexico.”
According to the Post, $25 billion was sent home by Mexicans living abroad in 2015 — but that accounts for Mexicans all across the globe, not just in the United States. Trump also proposes raising fees on visas and/or threatening to cancel them en masse for Mexican visitors.
Beyond the plan’s cruelty and diplomatic recklessness, it confirms fears that Trump’s interpretation of executive authority would be expansive. Trump’s plan requires reinterpreting key clauses of the “know your customer” provision of the Patriot Act. To enact such changes immediately — Trump vows to begin extorting Mexico the second he enters the Oval Office — the Donald would need to declare illegal immigration an “emergency” that poses an immediate threat to health and public safety. But canceling visas or limiting wire transfers doesn’t directly limit immigration. Thus, Trump’s plan would invite legal challenge. If it’s upheld, the proposal would spur yet another drastic expansion to executive authority.
“We have the moral high-ground here and all the leverage,” Trump’s memo concludes, after rattling off the various ways that Mexico — a country we invaded and expropriated several states’ worth of land from — has always taken advantage of the United States. “It is time we use it in order to Make America Great Again.”