Trump crowed on Friday. Mexico had given in to his demands and was changing its tune on immigration enforcement. After many Republican Senators had threatened to stand up to him about it, after risking the support of the Chamber of Commerce… his tariff threat had worked, completely, and without the United States suffering any damage.
It’s a fiction, of course; Mexico was already in the process of implementing nearly every policy Trump had “forced” out of them, and even the flimsy excuse that Mexico was now expediting their activities means nothing because Mexico had been trying to speed their efforts before Trump’s threat. Overwhelmingly, Trump’s actions had the same effect that a bettor yelling “Go!” has on a racehorse barreling down a track.
The tariff threat did, in fact, harm the United States. It further undermined world confidence in the security of our markets because the tariff threat was issued not for economic reasons but purely political ones, and it did so against a historical partner. This was not the President and his team issuing misguided fiscal policy and trying to balance trade numbers, nor was it a national security effort against international spying, such as the Huawei efforts may be. This was a simple attempt to bully an ally.
It also handed Mexico a significant win. Mexico currently receives a great quantity of wealth from money being sent home by workers in America. This repatriation of funds is one reason why Mexico is hesitant to take any action which restricts either legal or illegal immigration across the American border. That hesitancy only extends to protecting Mexican citizens, however.
Mexico and Central American countries are not identical. It is not “North Mexico”, “Guatemexico”, “Columexico”, “El Salvamexico”, etc…. While some racists may group them together because of the color of their skin and the Spanish language, they are very distinct nations with no small level of distrust, disdain and even contempt for each other. Mexico has been, for decades, attempting to control northward migration from these countries.
The caravans which have made the news – often dominating it – over the last half decade have been forming in large part due to the conflicts between Mexicans and the smaller nations. By massing together, the migrants are granted some measure of protection from Mexican criminals and authorities who might otherwise harm them. In addition to having the strength of numbers, they have been drawing the attention of the international press, which has had the effect of limiting any abuses which they might otherwise experience.
Mexico has been taking great strides to suppress these caravans. They drain resources from Mexico in the form of aid, but more importantly they have caused legal immigration efforts across the southern U.S. border to slow to a crawl.
While the number of Central American asylum seekers has skyrocketed in recent years, the numbers still aren’t very large, on the whole. The overwhelming majority – more than half in the last year with available data, 2017 – of immigrants into the United States were from Mexico. That’s immigrants, total, not merely from across the southern border. When countries like China and India, two nations with large quantities of emigres to the US, are stripped away and only nationalities which tend to enter across the Rio Grande are included, the percentage of Mexicans jumps even higher.
By shifting the focus to the migrant caravans, Mexico is able to point to “something being done about illegal immigration”, and is able to do so with the full blessing of President Trump. Mexico scapegoats people it already dislikes and is able to continue its promotion of illegal crossings by its citizenry, unabated.
Moreover, the drug cartels are delighted by the attention given the caravans. As more law enforcement resources are focused on the caravans, fewer resources are available to perform operations like drug interdiction and tunnel removal.
All of these are problems for America which have been exacerbated by Trump’s tariff threats. That said, it was still absolutely a win for Trump.
It was a win because the average American, whether Trump supporter or not, has no idea that Mexico has been working to clamp down on the caravans. Even those who have claimed for decades that America should adopt Mexico’s far stricter immigration policy tend to not realize that Mexico has been enforcing their policy, often in draconian fashion.
Mexico’s agreement to perform actions that it’s already doing are thus seen as a capitulation… and Trump, as the architect of that capitulation. It is, absolutely, the latest in a cycle of the President declaring an emergency, proposing a fix, reversing himself on that fix, and then declaring the emergency diminished. In this case, though, it has the appearance of success. All of the efforts of the press to inform people that the actions were already taking place will be ineffectual, because the people were not informed beforehand. Happening in response to the tariffs, it will cause those who distrust the press – a position held by many, not simply Trump supporters – to assume that the press is simply saying it to attack Trump again. Not that they necessarily think that Trump isn’t a viable target for attack, but that in this case, it’s a situation where the press can’t give him credit for anything he’s done right.
Their desire for “fairness” and “having an open mind” makes them an easy target for the con. And there are many of them, particularly among the independents.
That’s not the only way Trump won. He also found out which Senators were willing to turn on him to keep the support of places like the Chamber of Commerce. This gives him targets, and because his supporters will be so heavily convinced of the brilliant success he had, those targets will be attacked by the Trump faithful. This will further sap the already anemic will any Senators have to stand up to the President.
It also draws attention away from the gaffes on his European trip, and especially the continuing criminal investigations associated both with the Mueller Report and various other activities of Trump and his business associates.
And even that’s not the only way Trump won; there’s still the most insidious victory to consider.
One part of the agreement was that the processing of asylum applications was to be sped up. The Trump administration has been steadily restricting resources available for legal representation for asylum seekers. Increasing the speed of processing without increasing the number of judges to hear the cases and investigators to evaluate the claims will result in far more haphazard evaluations… and that, in turn, will either bow to political pressures (resulting in more desperate people being sent back to conditions where they will be raped, tortured and killed during anti-immigration administrations and more people who are attempting to abuse our asylum process being rewarded under pro-immigration administrations) or produce haphazard results with those deserving asylum turned away and those seeking to scam the system being granted entry.
Increasing the speed of asylum applications is a wonderful goal. In the absence of resources to process them correctly, it’s playing with people’s lives. It is the latest example of the Stephen Millerization of our border policy. In so doing, it plays very well with the racist subset of the Trump base, and solidifies a support which has been eroding because of his positive treatment of Israel.
It was a loss for America, but a big win for Trump.