Politics & Policy

Trump’s Border Wall Plan Is Ridiculous on Its Face

Trump campaigns in Rothschild, Wis., April 2, 2016. (Scott Olson/Getty)

P. T. Barnum did not actually say, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The maxim endures nevertheless, and if ever anything showed why, it is the chimerical immigration plan Donald Trump has managed to turn into a front-running presidential bid. On Tuesday, Trump shared that plan’s centerpiece with the Washington Post: his strategy to force Mexico to pony up the $5 to $10 billion he insists will be enough to build 1,000 miles of towering, impregnable wall.

The squeeze-thy-neighbor gambit hits the Trump trifecta: it is at once vain, authoritarian, and asinine.

After ten months, The Donald’s stand-up routine has descended into self-parody: As the Myrmidons sing along, Trump first brays that he “will build the wall” (which, incidentally, would have no bearing on visa overstays, who account for nearly half of the illegal-alien population). Then, he vows to get Mexico to foot the bill, as if there were honor in extorting a poor but reasonably amicable neighbor into paying the vital border-security costs of a profligate superpower in whose budget $10 billion barely qualifies as a rounding error. (Compare, e.g., Trump’s promise to do nothing about unsustainable entitlements that are bankrupting the economy.)

Yet, absent from most of his speeches to the ardent faithful — and from his campaign’s position paper, with which he seems unacquainted — is the vow he reserves for more progressive audiences and media interviews: He will readmit most of the 11 million illegal aliens (as he puts it, “the good ones”) with legal status after he wastes considerably more than $10 billion to chase down and deport them.

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That is, while portraying himself as the scourge of illegal immigration, Trump is actually proposing amnesty of the “touch-back” variety occasionally championed by open-borders advocates. In Trump’s plan, deportation is not a security measure; it’s a laundering scheme.

Mind you: That position paper of his laments “the influx of foreign workers [from illegal immigration],” which “holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans — including immigrants themselves and their children — to earn a middle class wage.” Which sentiment is hard to square with an amnesty plan that, by Trump’s own reasoning, will hold down salaries, keep unemployment high, and make it difficult for poor and working-class Americans to earn a middle-class wage.

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Trump’s wall plan, now outlined for the Post in a memo scarcely one-and-a-half pages long (counting two large “TRUMP: Make America Great Again” headers), is equally harebrained. He says he will force Mexico to pay for the wall by contorting the Patriot Act, of all things, into a unilateral executive power to draft private money-transfer companies like Western Union into policing illegal-alien remittances to Mexico.

In other words, 2016’s most successful “outsider insurgency” would replace the incumbent autocrat with a new autocrat.

The Patriot Act is a counter-terrorism measure aimed at enhancing investigations of national-security threats, not illegal immigration. To the extent that it beefed up surveillance of money transfers, it was aimed at remittances to terrorist organizations, not to Mexico.

2016’s most successful ‘outsider insurgency’ would replace the incumbent autocrat with a new autocrat.

Many Americans, including many of today’s Trump boosters, have complained — and not without justification — that the government exploited the Patriot Act powers enacted in the post-9/11 moment to extend surveillance of financial transactions and communications in ways never intended by Congress. Yet these same Trump boosters are apparently content to have their man issue Obama-esque executive decrees under the guise of this erstwhile bane of their existence — as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, maybe asking Congress to pass a law addressing remittances to Mexico.

Perhaps Trump has opted against approaching lawmakers because his idea, even if we dubiously assume its legality, is pointless.

#share#Section 326 of the Patriot Act — which expressly targets “international money laundering” and “terrorist financing” — empowers the Treasury Secretary to prescribe rules that financial institutions must follow in identifying people who open accounts and use them to move money. Trump figures all he needs to do is rewrite the relevant regulation. Our would-be chief executive’s memo explaining this to the Post features his signature attention to detail: It twice cites the regulation in question, but misidentifies it both times — it is actually 31 CFR 103.121, not 31 CFR 130.121. The latter provision does not exist in the Code of Federal Regulations.

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The regulation as currently written incorporates Congress’s statutory definition of a “financial institution.” Trump would unilaterally expand this definition in order to rope in “money transfer companies like Western Union.” He would also stretch the regulation’s definition of “account” to cover “wire transfers.” Finally, he would tack on a new prohibition against cross-border wire transfers by aliens “unless the alien first provides a document establishing his lawful presence in the United States.”

Not only would Trump adopt Obama’s practice of unilaterally decreeing federal law; he would continue Obama’s habit of deploying government legal processes as a weapon against political foes. Brazenly, Trump’s memo crows that he does not intend his proposed regulation to be like, you know, a real regulation. It is instead meant to be a scare tactic: hardball to pressure Mexico into coughing up cash for the Great Wall of Trump.

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Mexico, he reckons, garners about $24 billion a year in remittances and would see the proposed regulation as a threat to that haul. Trump thus figures it would be worth Mexico’s while to say “uncle” — i.e., to “make a one-time payment of $5–10 billion” to ensure that the money continues to flow in. Once Mexico folds, Trump would withdraw the threatened regulation before it ever took effect: The art of the deal!

Alas, The Donald is no Don: This is an offer Mexico can easily refuse.

Assuming, as I do, that Trump is correct that total remittances amount to roughly $24 billion, a large chunk of that comes from legal Mexican aliens and American citizens of Mexican descent. They would have no trouble complying with Trump’s threatened regulation. Nor would illegal aliens be much deterred: There are many alternatives to wire transfer for remitting funds: e.g., mailing cash or prepaid credit cards, writing checks on bank accounts opened by qualified nominees, or even setting up informal hawala arrangements of the type popular in the Middle East.

#related#Mexico would continue to get its money. Trump’s regulation would succeed only in imposing heavy burdens on American financial institutions, which would pass the resulting costs on to American citizens. Meanwhile, by driving remittance practices underground, Trump’s regulation would deprive American law enforcement of a useful avenue for tracking money transfers made by the very criminal element that he routinely decries in speaking about illegal immigration.

None of this would be lost on President Enrique Peña Nieto. He would simply smile at the threatened regulation and tell President Trump to pound sand.

Trump promises “win, win, win.” What he delivers is Atlantic City. That’s the art of the real.

(Disclosure: I support Ted Cruz for president.)

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor at National Review.

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