September 14, 2018
Build the wall! Build the wall! That was the rallying cry from Trump’s base throughout his presidential campaign. After which the candidate would lead the chant, “Who’s gonna pay for it? Mexico.”
The times have changed—and the tables have turned. Now, as part of the administration’s campaign to stop illegal immigration, the United States plans instead to pay Mexico.
In a recent notice sent to Congress, the administration said it intended to take $20 million in foreign assistance funds and use it to help Mexico pay plane and bus fare to deport as many as 17,000 people who are in that country illegally, The New York Times reported on September 12.
According to the news outlet, the funding will help the POTUS to increase deportations of Central Americans, many of whom pass through Mexico to get to the American border.
In addition, in an effort to hype the plan to his nationwide base, the president has said that “any unauthorized immigrant in Mexico who is a known or suspected terrorist” will also be deported under the program, according to the notification, although such people are few in number.
Katie Waldman, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told the Times that the program was intended to help relieve immigration flows at the United States border with Mexico.
“We are working closely with our Mexican counterparts to confront rising border apprehension numbers—specifically, a 38% increase in families this month alone—directly and to ensure that those with legitimate claims have access to appropriate protections,” Waldman said.
A spokesperson for the Mexican Embassy did not immediately respond to the news outlet’s request for comment.
Following the disclosure on September 13 that FEMA funds needed for hurricane recovery had been redirected to ICE for expansion of its detention center program, the plan to redirect foreign assistance funds becomes another example of the ways in which the administration is diverting money to serve its own priorities.
The administration has yet to spend nearly $3 billion in foreign aid, according to the Times—money allocated last year by Congress with broad bipartisan support. Hundreds of millions of dollars meant to help stabilize Syria and support Palestinian schools and hospitals already has been redirected.
The money will be transferred from the State Department to the Department of Homeland Security, and then sent to Mexico.
“Congress intended for this money to lift up communities dealing with crime, corruption and so many other challenges, not to expand this administration’s deportation crusade,” Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Times. “I want answers about why the State Department thinks it can ignore Congress and dump more cash into deportation efforts. Until then, I’ll do whatever I can to stop this.”
Under the program, Mexico would be responsible for detaining and providing judicial review of immigrants before deporting them. The sometimes cumbersome and lengthy legal process in the United States to deport asylum seekers has long frustrated President Trump, who has often said the laws must be changed to speed deportations. Getting Mexico to do deportations instead would bypass that process.
“We shouldn’t be paying another country to do our dirty work; we should actually be fixing our immigration system and helping these countries get back on solid footing,” said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “It smacks of desperation.”
Meanwhile, population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017.
Research contact: @GardinerHarris