What Trump Said About Making Mexico Pay for the Wall

Fox News, January 15, 2019

Trump-haters are again foaming at the mouth over comments made by the president regarding the border wall he has promised to build. Once again, they are wrong about their criticism of the president.

President Trump noted last week that his campaign promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it “obviously” did not mean getting a check from the Mexican government directly. Rather, he said, Mexico will be paying for the wall indirectly, “many, many times over” via the trade agreement his administration recently renegotiated with Canada and Mexico to replace NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).


The anti-Trump media wasted no time accusing the president of lying. CNN, featuring all-out indignation from its anchors, promptly replayed video footage from Trump campaign rallies showing Trump and his raucous crowds chanting that Mexico will pay for the wall.

The Washington Post has chimed in as well and declared in a headline: “Trump falsely asserts he never promised Mexico would directly pay for the border wall.”

Meanwhile, Politifact screamed out its own verdict: “Trump says he didn’t say Mexico would write US a check for border wall. But he did.”

The media have pointed to two policy documents issued by the Trump campaign as “proof” that the president is lying. But in reality, both documents show that the current controversy is an example of where ignorance and sloppiness meet anti-Trump political bias.

The first document, issued in August 2015, was a wide-ranging call for immigration reform. In it, the Trump campaign outlined possible ways through which a Trump administration would get Mexico to pay for the wall.

Specifically, the campaign document said the following: “Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards – of which we issue about 1 million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all NAFTA worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico (Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options).  We will not be taken advantage of anymore.”

In other words, even in the early days of the GOP primaries, the Trump campaign understood that getting Mexico pay for a border wall was going to require multiple forms of pressure, including the type of trade pressure the president recently highlighted.

Trump-haters also found a second campaign policy paper, titled “Compelling Mexico to Pay for the Wall.” Issued in April 2016, the memo again focused on remittance payments to Mexico, and threatened the following action on the first three days of a Trump presidency: the United States would impound the $24 billion that flow to Mexico annually from Mexican nationals unless Mexico contributed $5 billion to $10 billion to wall construction.

Trump bashers eagerly point out that this is proof that the Trump campaign had indeed promised the U.S. would get a check from Mexico. A closer read of the memo shows that the campaign believed there were “several ways to compel Mexico to pay for the wall.”

In addition to the three-day plan, the memo also outlined other options discussed previously in the immigration reform paper, including tariffs, the canceling of visas for Mexican nationals, and increases in visa fees.

Certainly, the president has a habit of speaking imprecisely and not being familiar with the details of his campaign’s or administration’s policy proposals.

Nevertheless, it is disingenuous for his critics to huff and puff over what they perceive as a lie. Campaign policy memos clearly show that – as the president now indicates – using trade negotiations and measures is a key tactic he advocated for pursuing his border wall objective and getting get Mexico to contribute to wall funding indirectly.

One can certainly question whether such the tactics are effective or will even increase the coffers of the federal government for wall construction. But in the end, all the consternation from Trump opponents in the latest manufactured controversy reveals that – once again – they have missed the point.

The campaign’s policy memos, now several years old, still succinctly lay out the crux of Trump’s political argument – and this is what the squabbling, self-congratulating Trump-haters do not get.

Just a few lines from the immigration reform memo shed light on Trump’s promise about the wall: “When politicians talk about ‘immigration reform’ they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders. The Schumer-Rubio immigration bill (from New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in 2013) was nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate patrons who run both parties. Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first – not wealthy globetrotting donors.”

The second memo is similarly revealing. It says: “There is no doubt that Mexico is engaging in unfair subsidy behavior that has eliminated thousands of U.S. jobs, and which we are obligated to respond to.”

One could disagree with the substance, but those pretending to be honest and objective observers of President Trump should at least try to understand why “build the wall” and “Mexico will pay for it” became a rallying cry during the last presidential campaign.

The chant reflected voters’ frustration that Mexico was engaging in unfair practices, whether in trade or immigration, while politicians in Washington on both the left and the right did nothing about this.

Candidate Trump promised to change this. If Trump-haters paid attention to this core idea, they might understand why Trump supporters care far more about whether the president builds the wall and strengthen border security than they care about whether Mexico pays for the wall directly or indirectly.


Image: The fence between the USA and Mexico along the Pacific Ocean just south of San Diego. Photo by Tony Webster; CC by 2.0.

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