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Republicans Clash with Trump over Proposed Tariffs of Up to 25% on All Mexican Imports

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Mexican officials are meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today in Washington, D.C., to discuss President Trump’s plan to impose a 5% tariff on all imported Mexican goods. Over time, tariffs could increase to as much as 25%. Trump announced tariffs over what he claims is Mexico’s failure to stem the flow of Central American asylum seekers and migrants into the United States. Citing potentially devastating consequences to the U.S. economy, Senate Republicans defied the president Tuesday, announcing their opposition to the tariffs. We speak with Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a growing standoff on Capitol Hill as Senate Republicans appear poised to block President Trump’s proposed tariffs on all Mexican goods. Mexican officials are in Washington, D.C., this week for talks with the Trump administration over the president’s plan to impose a 5% tariff on all imported goods, which could increase to as much as 25%. Trump announced the tariffs over what he claims is Mexico’s failure to stem the flow of Central American migrants into the United States. Citing potentially devastating consequences to the U.S. economy, Senate Republicans defied the president Tuesday, announcing their opposition to the tariffs. This is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking at a news conference.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that’s for sure. But we appreciate the—we had an opportunity at lunch to talk to a number of representatives from the White House about this particular strategy. I think I can safely say most of us hope that this Mexican delegation that’s come up here, and discuss the challenges at the border and what the Mexicans might be able to do to help us more than they have, will be fruitful and that these tariffs will not kick in.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking from London Tuesday, President Trump responded to the possibility of Republicans blocking the tariffs.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I don’t think they will do that. I think if they do, it’s foolish. … I want to see security at our border. I’m going to see great trade. I’m going to see a lot of things happening, and that is happening. And as you know, Mexico called. They want to meet. They’re going to meet on Wednesday. Secretary Pompeo is going to be at the meeting, along with a few others that are very good at this. And we are going to see if we can do something. But I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on. And we’ll probably be talking during the time that the tariffs are on, and they’re going to be paid.

AMY GOODMAN: Mexican officials are meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today in Washington.

For more, we’re going to Portland, Oregon, to see Laura Carlsen, the director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Laura. Can you talk about what’s happening here, the threat of President Trump, what he is accusing Mexico of, and Mexico’s response?

LAURA CARLSEN: This threat of imposing tariffs of 5%, going up to 25% in October, is economic blackmail. Essentially what he’s saying is that Mexico should do more to alleviate—and these are his words—the “crisis of illegal immigration” at the border. In the letter that he—the statement that he put out regarding the tariffs, he says that these tariffs will be in place until Mexico has taken effective actions, that will be determined by our discretion and our judgment. So it’s not even clear exactly what Mexico is supposed to do and how they’re trying to negotiate what’s actually happening at the border.

We have to remember that this characterization of a border crisis is essentially false. These are not unprecedented numbers. And this is not an unmanageable situation. What it is is a manufactured crisis that Donald Trump is using for electoral purposes in order to create an image that immigration is the number one problem that the United States faces, and mobilize an essentially racist and white supremacist base.

This, as you can imagine, has not gone down well in Mexico. The first response of President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador was to write a very strong letter to Donald Trump, really the strongest letter that we’ve seen yet, because he’s been very careful about the U.S.-Mexico relationship, particularly for the trade and investment aspects involved. And he said, “I am not a coward. I am not timid. And our approach to immigration is different. It involves stemming immigration in the countries of origin where people are being forced to flee.”

This is the situation we have now, as they go into meetings. It’s a macho move on the part of Donald Trump to say that he’ll impose these tariffs. But he’s gone out on a limb, because, as we mentioned, he does not have the support of the Republican Party. And, in fact, he doesn’t have the support of especially the economists in his own Cabinet.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Laura, you mentioned the lack of support within the Republican Party. Senator Ted Cruz, for instance, who has always had a reputation as being extremely hard-line on immigration, came out in opposition, because, obviously, Texas, having the biggest part of the border with Mexico, also has the most benefit from trade with Mexico. And you’re seeing politicians throughout Texas in an uproar over this proposal. We even have talk of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suing the Trump administration over these tariffs. I’m wondering: Has there been surprise in Mexico about this enormous response by even the most conservative members of the Republican Party?

LAURA CARLSEN: There hasn’t really, because Mexicans know what apparently everyone except Donald Trump knows, which is that tariffs mostly affect consumers and importers in the United States. That’s why the border states are so concerned about this, and the industrial and trade associations, from the Chamber of Commerce to the National Association of Manufacturers, and the others that you mentioned are immediately rushing to Washington to begin lobbying and saying, “You’ve got to be kidding. You know, this is—these are our livelihoods that you’re talking about.” Vertically integrated supply chains, especially in the automotive industry, that rely on Mexican parts, and their costs will automatically increase.

So, he’s shooting himself in the foot, essentially, in order to make this statement that it’s somehow Mexico’s fault that Central American migrants are fleeing conditions, that were largely created by U.S. policies, coming up through Mexico and arriving at the border, where—and this is, again, important—they are not entering, the majority, illegally. They are entering and requesting asylum, which is a procedure that’s sanctioned under international law for people who are fleeing persecution.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaking at a rally Friday.

PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] And we will always defend our fellow migrants, and not just Mexican migrants, all of those who look for a new life out of necessity and leave for other places. They go walking, because they don’t have opportunities or jobs, or because, in their places of origin, there is much violence. All migrants deserve our respect, our understanding and our fraternal hand. We are human beings.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Mexican president, AMLO. Laura Carlsen, can you talk about the criticism of the president in the treatment of migrants, the violent repression—that started before him, of course, but people are criticizing him for continuing, and especially with the Trump pressure?

LAURA CARLSEN: Here we have the contradiction. And that is that we’re getting this discourse particularly in response to this punitive, criminalizing model that Donald Trump is trying to impose on Mexico. We’re getting this discourse that we’re going to go to the root causes of immigration, with respect for human rights and a paradigm shift in terms of how migratory flows are handled in Mexico and in general, in which it would appear that Mexico would seek to be a leader in creating a new model, a more humane model, to handle what’s a phenomenon that’s obviously here to stay, which is immigration on a global level. However, especially since January, February, and the threat to close the border by Donald Trump, we have been seeing something very different on the ground.

Human rights groups that are reporting from the southern border are talking about increased raids. We’ve seen the deportation rate of Central Americans from Mexico double just since January, January to May. There is increased detention. And these are practices that were not common in Mexico before, although we’ve had a long history, particularly since the Southern Border Plan in 2014, again, with pressure from a U.S. government, of a crackdown.

So, we have, on the one hand, a discourse of a different approach, but, in practice, we are seeing a crackdown. And the hope, of course, is that in these negotiations we won’t have any kind, whether public or behind the scenes, caving in to this punitive model, and we will see this other model that they’ve discussed of more human rights, more job visas, more opportunities for asylum, insisting that the United States deal with processing legal asylum seekers in its own country—we will see this other model go forward. But it’s not happening so far. And organizations of civil society will be watching very closely to see what does happen on the ground.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And one of the issues that AMLO raised, shortly after his inauguration, of the need for some kind of major initiative for economic development in Central America to actually deal with the root causes of what is leading to so much—so many people fleeing the countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Any expectation that this will be part of the discussion, even though, obviously, the Trump administration is going in the opposite direction, cutting off aid to the Central American countries as punishment for their failure to keep their citizens from leaving?

LAURA CARLSEN: This will definitely be part of the negotiations. How far they’ll get, as you say, is another question. But this is the pillar of Mexico’s immigration policy. They just announced the Integral Development Plan for Central America, that was drawn up along with the U.N. Economic Commission, and it goes to the root causes, which is the major advantage that this plan has, and says what needs to be done so that forced migration can stop, that many of these people would prefer to remain in their own communities, with their own families, in their own country, if it weren’t for circumstances that were pushing them out of their countries. This is clearly a long-range plan to reduce immigration, but almost all experts agree that it’s the only plan that could possibly work.

Now, on the aid issue, we have to look very closely at any aid plan, especially that involves the United States government, in terms of where that aid is going. Donald Trump has threatened to cut off aid, and yet he’s been willing to put more aid and support and training into going to Central American countries and bolstering a crackdown on their own people, making it more difficult for them to leave their own country, which is characteristic of an authoritarian state, and trying to prevent, again, immigration through this punitive, criminalizing model. So, when we talk about aid, we have to be sure we’re talking about the kind of aid that goes to keeping people in communities, to recognizing their right to their own resources, to avoiding the kinds of megaprojects that actually displace people. And that would be a real change in the model of U.S. aid to date. So we need those kinds of programs that will go to the root causes of immigration, but they have to be carefully designed between the United States and Mexico in order to really give people the option to have healthy and dignified livelihoods in their own countries.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you understand is going on right now in Washington, Laura, Pompeo and Pence meeting with the Mexican delegation? And also, describe just returning from Tijuana and the report you’re coming out with.

LAURA CARLSEN: Well, right now there’s a very delicate set of negotiations going on, because so much has to do with Donald Trump’s ego, and that is not negotiated under the normal rules and procedures of international relations. There’s a strong possibility that the 5% tariff will go into place as a result of this, which won’t end up in cutting off orders to Mexico, but will end up in a bump in prices, for the most part, to U.S. consumers.

Mexicans are trying to get a commitment that there will be support for the development program in Central America and in southern Mexico, and they’re expecting a negotiation to come out of that. So what happens is—and the biggest point of concern is whether Mexicans will cave in terms of more punitive measures for asylum seekers when they’re in Mexico.

I was just in Tijuana. And the situation is reaching a humanitarian crisis there, because, essentially, there are 8,000 people that have been returned under what’s called the “Remain in Mexico” program, a program that the Mexican government should never have accepted from the United States, where people who have already requested asylum in the United States are returned to Mexico to await their hearings. That can take up to a year. So those numbers are growing. We’re having new migrants coming in, and we’re having people being deported at increasing rates, mostly Mexicans, back to Tijuana. So there are streams of immigrants coming into border towns across the Mexican border, on the Mexican side. There is no support—virtually no support from the governments. And although civil society, on both sides of the border, is doing a heroic job of taking care of these mostly desperate families from Central America, something’s got to give.

Increasing this punitive, criminalizing model, forcing Mexico to accept more asylum seekers from the United States will only make that situation worse. And then the humanitarian crisis that we’re seeing, the deaths of the children, which has happened on both sides of the border, the detention centers and inhumane conditions will increase.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Laura Carlsen, for joining us, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

When we come back, we’ll look at the violence faced by transgender women in the U.S., after a trans asylum seeker in Texas and a black trans woman in Dallas died this weekend. Stay with us.

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