Trump goes wall to wall on the wall

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Calvin Wood­ward and Hope Yen

WASH­ING­TON >> Never mind the chants, the roars, the rep­e­ti­tion. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ac­knowl­edged this past week he didn’t mean it when he told crowds over and over that Mex­ico would pay — ac­tu­ally pay — for the wall.

Mex­ico will pay “in­di­rectly,” he now says. To sup­port that claim, he in­dulged in cre­ative ac­count­ing over the course of days marked by a prime-time speech, a trip to the bor­der and a bar­rage of tweets paint­ing dire threats from the south.

He said the wall will “very quickly pay for it­self” by re­duc­ing the U.S. drug prob­lem, and pay for it­self “many times over” by the ben­e­fits he pre­dicts will ac­crue to the U.S. econ­omy from an up­dated trade deal with Canada and Mex­ico.

Nei­ther of these sup­posed sources of wall pay­ment dings Mex­ico’s trea­sury or im­poses any cost re­sem­bling what his cam­paign pro­posed. Back then, he wanted Mex­ico to hand over up to $10 bil­lion in a sin­gle pay­ment or pay equiv­a­lent costs through higher tar­iffs, visa fees charged to its cit­i­zens or other puni­tive mea­sures. Mex­ico has re­fused to pay any­thing to­ward a U.S. wall.

A look at Trump’s wallto-wall rhetoric on the wall, in a week when thou­sands of fed­eral work­ers missed their first pay­check from the par­tial shut­down and the pres­i­dent weighed the op­tion of declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency at the bor­der:

Wall Con­struc­tion

TRUMP: “The Fake News Me­dia keeps say­ing we haven’t built any NEW WALL. Below is a sec­tion just com­pleted on the Bor­der. Anti-climb­ing fea­ture in­cluded. Very high, strong and beau­ti­ful! Also, many miles al­ready ren­o­vated and in ser­vice!” — tweet Fri­day, show­ing a sec­tion of bol­lard wall.

THE FACTS: No new miles of bar­rier con­struc­tion have been com­pleted un­der Trump. Ex­ist­ing fenc­ing has been re­placed or strength­ened in a few ar­eas. It’s true that many miles of bar­rier are in ser­vice — about 650 miles or 1,050 kilo­me­ters of fenc­ing — but that was done by pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Mex­ico and The Wall

TRUMP: “I never meant they’re go­ing to write out a check ... . Mex­ico is pay­ing for the wall in­di­rectly. And when I said Mex­ico will pay for the wall, in front of thou­sands and thou­sands of peo­ple, ob­vi­ously they’re not go­ing to write a check.” — re­marks Thurs­day.

THE FACTS: A Trump cam­paign pol­icy paper en­vis­aged an ex­plicit pay­ment from Mex­ico: “It’s an easy de­ci­sion for Mex­ico: make a one-time pay­ment of $510 bil­lion,” the paper said.

The plan out­lined var­i­ous ways for Trump to com­pel Mex­ico to pay for the wall, such as by Wash­ing­ton cut­ting off bil­lions of dol­lars in re­mit­tances sent back to Mex­ico by im­mi­grants liv­ing in the U.S., or by re­coup­ing the money through trade tar­iffs or higher visa fees. None of that has hap­pened.

Al­though his cam­paign left open the pos­si­bil­ity that Mex­ico might some­how con­trib­ute to the cost in­di­rectly, Trump roused his crowds with the straigh­ta­head prom­ise: “I will have Mex­ico pay for that wall.”

“Who?” he asked his sup­port­ers. “Mex­ico,” they shouted.

Now he is say­ing his words were not meant to be taken lit­er­ally.

Trade Deal

TRUMP: “They’re pay­ing for the wall in a great trade deal.” — re­marks Thurs­day in Texas.

THE FACTS: Noth­ing in his trade agree­ment with Mex­ico and Canada would cover or re­fund the con­struc­tion cost or re­quire a pay­ment from Mex­ico. In­stead he is as­sum­ing a wide va­ri­ety of eco­nomic ben­e­fits will come from the agree­ment that can’t be quan­ti­fied or counted on. For ex­am­ple, he has said the deal will dis­suade some U.S. com­pa­nies from mov­ing op­er­a­tions to Mex­ico and he cred­its that pos­si­bil­ity as a pay­ment by Mex­ico.

The trade deal pre­serves the ex­ist­ing lib­er­al­ized en­vi­ron­ment of low or no tar­iffs among the U.S., Mex­ico and Canada, with cer­tain im­prove­ments for each coun­try. The deal has yet to be rat­i­fied in any mem­ber coun­try and its chances of win­ning leg­isla­tive ap­proval are not as­sured.

Obama Video

TRUMP: “Pres­i­dent Obama, thank you for your great sup­port — I have been say­ing this all along!” — tweet Thurs­day, ac­com­pa­nied by video of Obama speak­ing as pres­i­dent in 2014.

THE FACTS: Trump’s tweet is de­cep­tive, link­ing to a video clip that shows Obama, as pres­i­dent, dis­cussing “an ac­tual hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis on the bor­der” — a surge of tens of thou­sands of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren and youth, mostly from Cen­tral Amer­ica, who tried to cross from Mex­ico in 2014. Obama’s re­marks do not sup­port Trump’s pro­posal for a bor­der wall, which the for­mer pres­i­dent has crit­i­cized, or en­dorse the path Trump is con­sid­er­ing now: declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency that might en­able him to cir­cum­vent Con­gress and uni­lat­er­ally spend money on wall.

In­stead, Obama was ask­ing Con­gress to ap­prove an emer­gency ap­pro­pri­a­tion to deal with the surge.

Cri­sis?

TRUMP: “Tonight I am speak­ing to you be­cause there is a grow­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian and se­cu­rity cri­sis at our south­ern bor­der.” — ad­dress to the na­tion Tues­day.

THE FACTS: Few would dis­pute that a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis is un­fold­ing. A sharp in­crease in the num­ber of fam­i­lies at the bor­der, mostly from Cen­tral Amer­ica, cou­pled with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hard-line stance is over­whelm­ing bor­der re­sources, adding to back­logs in the asy­lum sys­tem and leav­ing mi­grants in abysmal con­di­tions on the Mex­i­can side.

Trump, how­ever, has been un­able to con­vince Con­gress that the bor­der poses a na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis. He has made a se­ries of state­ments falsely claim­ing that ter­ror­ists are pour­ing in from Mex­ico, that a wall would choke off ship­ments of il­licit drugs and that peo­ple who get into the U.S. il­le­gally com­mit a dis­pro­por­tion­ate share of vi­o­lent crime.

The num­ber of bor­der ar­rests — the lead­ing gauge of how many peo­ple are try­ing to cross il­le­gally — is ac­tu­ally one-quar­ter of what it was in 2000, drop­ping from 1.6 mil­lion then to 400,000 in 2018.

Democrats

TRUMP: “Democrats will not fund bor­der se­cu­rity.” — re­marks Tues­day.

THE FACTS: They just won’t fund it the way he wants. They have re­fused his de­mand for $5.7 bil­lion to build part of a steel wall across the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

Democrats passed leg­is­la­tion the day they took con­trol of the House that of­fered $1.3 bil­lion for bor­der se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers and tech­nol­ogy. Se­nate Democrats have ap­proved sim­i­lar fund­ing year after year. Many Democrats backed 2006 leg­is­la­tion that has re­sulted in the con­struc­tion of about 650 miles (1,050 kilo­me­ters) of bor­der bar­rier. Many also sup­ported failed leg­is­la­tion in 2013 that would have dou­bled the length of fenc­ing and al­lowed im­mi­grants liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally to ap­ply for a pro­vi­sional le­gal sta­tus if they paid a $500 fine and had no felony con­vic­tions.

Drugs

TRUMP: “We lose 300 Amer­i­cans a week, 90% of which comes through the South­ern Bor­der. These num­bers will be DRAS­TI­CALLY RE­DUCED if we have a Wall!” — tweet Thurs­day.

TRUMP: “Our south­ern bor­der is a pipe­line for vast quan­ti­ties of il­le­gal drugs, in­clud­ing meth, heroin, co­caine and fen­tanyl. Ev­ery week, 300 of our cit­i­zens are killed by heroin alone, 90 per­cent of which floods across from our south­ern bor­der.” — re­marks Tues­day.

THE FACTS: What he’s try­ing to say in the tweet Thurs­day is that a wall would stop most heroin from com­ing into the coun­try and dras­ti­cally re­duce heroin deaths, which av­er­age about 300 per week. But the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion says “only a small per­cent­age” of heroin seized by U.S. au­thor­i­ties comes across on ter­ri­tory be­tween land ports of en­try. Most of it is smug­gled through of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ings.

The agency says the same is true of drugs gen­er­ally. In a 2018 re­port, it said the most com­mon traf­fick­ing tech­nique by transna­tional crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions is to hide drugs in pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles or trac­tor-trail­ers as they drive into the U.S. though land en­try ports, where they are stopped and sub­ject to in­spec­tion. They also em­ploy buses, cargo trains and tun­nels, the re­port says, cit­ing other smug­gling meth­ods that also would not be choked off by a wall.

Trump re­cently said drug smug­glers don’t use ports of en­try, an as­ser­tion flatly con­tra­dicted by his drug en­force­ment per­son­nel.

De­spite that dis­con­nect, Trump went so far as to say: “The bor­der wall would very quickly pay for it­self. The cost of il­le­gal drugs ex­ceeds $500 bil­lion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 bil­lion we have re­quested from Con­gress.”

The Ex-Pres­i­dents

TRUMP on a bor­der wall: “This should have been done by all of the pres­i­dents that pre­ceded me. And they all know it. Some of them have told me that we should have done it.” — Rose Gar­den news con­fer­ence Jan. 4.

THE FACTS: Three ex­pres­i­dents — Bill Clin­ton, Jimmy Carter and Ge­orge W. Bush — de­nied dis­cussing the wall with Trump; the fourth, Obama, de­clined to an­swer. His of­fice sent past com­ments by Obama crit­i­ciz­ing the wall, and the two have not spo­ken since the in­au­gu­ra­tion ex­cept for a quick ex­change at Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s fu­neral. Said Carter: “I have not dis­cussed the bor­der wall with Pres­i­dent Trump, and do not sup­port him on the is­sue.”

Vi­o­lence

TRUMP: “Over the years thou­sands of Amer­i­cans have been bru­tally killed by those who il­le­gally en­tered our coun­try and thou­sands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.” — re­marks Tues­day.

THE FACTS: His state­ment that peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally are a spe­cial men­ace to pub­lic safety is at odds with plen­ti­ful re­search.

Mul­ti­ple stud­ies from so­cial sci­en­tists and the lib­er­tar­ian think tank Cato In­sti­tute have found that peo­ple in the U.S. il­le­gally are less likely to com­mit crime than U.S. cit­i­zens — be­yond the crime of il­le­gal en­try — and le­gal im­mi­grants are even less likely to com­mit crime. A March study by the jour­nal Crim­i­nol­ogy found “un­doc­u­mented im­mi­gra­tion does not in­crease vi­o­lence.”

Im­mi­grant Costs/ Ben­e­fits

TRUMP: “Amer­ica proudly wel­comes mil­lions of law­ful im­mi­grants who en­rich our so­ci­ety and con­trib­ute to our na­tion but all Amer­i­cans are hurt by un­con­trolled il­le­gal mi­gra­tion. It strains pub­lic re­sources and drives down jobs and wages.” — re­marks Tues­day.

THE FACTS: The U.S. is not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “un­con­trolled” il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. The de­bate is over whether the con­trols are strong enough.

As for the costs, a ma­jor aca­demic study in 2016 by the Na­tional Academy of Sciences, En­gi­neer­ing and Medicine found the job im­pacts of im­mi­gra­tion, when mea­sured over at least 10 years, are very small. It found im­mi­gra­tion — le­gal and il­le­gal — is an over­all ben­e­fit to long-term eco­nomic growth.

Some ev­i­dence sug­gests that skilled im­mi­grants boost wages. Na­tive-born Amer­i­cans with­out a high­school de­gree are most likely to suf­fer.

The academy study said es­ti­mat­ing fis­cal im­pacts of im­mi­gra­tion is com­plex. Young and old im­mi­grants tend to drain gov­ern­ment re­sources while work­ing-age im­mi­grants con­trib­ute.

Ter­ror­ism

TRUMP: “We have ter­ror­ists com­ing through the south­ern bor­der be­cause they find that’s prob­a­bly the eas­i­est place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left.” — Rose Gar­den news con­fer­ence Jan. 4.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House press sec­re­tary: “We know that roughly, nearly 4,000 known or sus­pected ter­ror­ists come into our coun­try il­le­gally, and we know that our most vul­ner­a­ble point of en­try is at our south­ern bor­der.” — “Fox News Sun­day” Jan. 6.

THE FACTS: If they’re driv­ing “right in” through bor­der cross­ings, no wall would stop them. But as to the broader point, U.S. of­fi­cials have pro­duced no ev­i­dence of a ter­ror­ist in­flux from Mex­ico.

Trump and some of his aides have mis­rep­re­sented sta­tis­tics on for­eign­ers who were stopped glob­ally by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion be­cause they were on a watch list. They have sug­gested or plainly stated that they were stopped com­ing from Mex­ico.

Sanders ac­knowl­edged later in the week: “I should have said 4,000 at all points of en­try, not just at the south­ern bor­der.”

De­spite Trump’s por­trayal of Mex­ico as a teem­ing por­tal for ter­ror­ists, the State Depart­ment is­sued a re­port in Septem­ber find­ing “no cred­i­ble ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist groups have es­tab­lished bases in Mex­ico, worked with Mex­i­can drug car­tels or sent op­er­a­tives via Mex­ico into the United States.”

It went on: “The U.S. south­ern bor­der re­mains vul­ner­a­ble to po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist tran­sit, al­though ter­ror­ist groups likely seek other means of try­ing to en­ter the United States.”

CAR­LOS BARRIA/POOL PHOTO VIA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks from the Oval Of­fice of the White House on Tues­day night as he gives a prime-time ad­dress about bor­der se­cu­rity in Wash­ing­ton.

GRE­GORY BULL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A man looks to­wards where the bor­der wall meets the Pa­cific Ocean in Ti­juana, Mex­ico, on Wed­nes­day.

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