President Donald Trump announced May 30 the imposition of tariffs on all Mexican imports, effective June 10, if Mexico did not agree to take strong measures against refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. Then on June 7, he suspended the tariffs, but only after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — popularly known as AMLO — agreed to deploy 6,000 troops primarily along the Guatemalan border to suppress migration. Asylum seekers will be illegally held in Mexico while they wait for their cases to be heard in U.S. courts.
This will create tremendous hardship for refugees fleeing violence and political repression in their home countries, primarily Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The wait for a hearing can be six months to over a year.
Thousands of refugees have already been deported or blocked from entry by Customs and Border Patrol under the Department of Homeland Security’s “Migrant Protection Protocols.” As the American Civil Liberties Union points out, “The policy illegally denies access to the asylum system and forces migrants to wait in untenable conditions, vulnerable to abuse like the Castro family, even before beginning any asylum procedure in U.S. courts.”
The Castro family, on whose behalf the ACLU has filed suit, left El Salvador and were turned away at the U.S. border. The mother, father and three children were then “kidnapped, extorted by Mexican officials, separated in immigration detention and threatened in Mexico by their past persecutors.” The children suffered from lack of medical care. The Castros’ plight is by no means unique; over 200 refugees gave similar testimony to the ACLU.
Now Trump has bludgeoned the Mexican government into cooperating with Washington’s inhumane policy. Unlike Trump, AMLO did commit the country to “respecting the human rights of migrants.”
The practice of keeping out asylum seekers is completely illegal under U.S. and international law. The racist-in-chief does not care. When the protocols were instituted in January, then Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen called them “a methodical commonsense approach.” Nielsen, a Trump appointee, was the architect of the practice of separating migrant children from their parents and caging them. Trump removed her for being too soft.
Washington is largely responsible for creating the conditions that drive people to leave their homelands in the first place. June 28 is the tenth anniversary of the bloody U.S.-orchestrated coup in Honduras against democratically elected President Mel Zelaya.
Tariffs would hurt workers here
The 45th president has been unable to fulfill his ugly campaign promise to build a “beautiful” wall along the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border to keep im/migrants out of the country. So he resorted to another tactic: economic warfare. The threatened tariffs, which would have begun as a 5 percent tax on all incoming Mexican goods, to increase monthly by 5 percent until hitting 25 percent, were also deemed “beautiful.”
However, the latest volley in Trump’s trade war, which follows inflationary tariffs on Chinese imports, garnered little support. The import tax would have affected a wide range of products, including agricultural goods, autos, clothing, electronics and oil. Rather than compromise their profit margin, corporations would pass on the added cost to consumers. The tariffs could take an estimated 400,000 jobs out of the U.S. economy. (Vanity Fair, June 6)
What the media are not saying is that, in addition to foisting higher prices on consumers, capital would put the squeeze on labor. The hit to Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was projected to be in the billions, and their contracts with the United Auto Workers expire in September.
The trade war has drawn a negative response on Capitol Hill, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stating “we’re not fans of tariffs.” And on May 31, “[T]he drop in American stocks was sweeping,” reported the New York Times. “Investors dumped industrial and machinery stocks, shares of consumer products companies and those of giant tech companies.”
The stock market declined 6.6 percent in May. Mexican firms voiced real fears around a loss of business as a result of the tariffs being imposed by their largest trading partner.
Faced with a scenario of economic devastation and mass unemployment, Mexico agreed to some of Trump’s demands. As this newspaper explained: “Not every one of his actions has been progressive, as AMLO remains trapped in a capitalist system overshadowed by U.S. imperialism.” (“Mexico: Rising worker militancy at the border,” WW, April 4)
Why all the posturing?
What the president was not able to extort from Mexico at this time was a “safe third country” declaration. This would deny migrants the right to seek asylum in the U.S. once they set foot in Mexico. The situation for refugee families would be even more unbearable, and Mexico, not the U.S., would shoulder the cost of humanitarian assistance to them.
Almost immediately after Trump proclaimed success, reports surfaced that the Mexican government had actually agreed to the terms of the “new” agreement months ago. So why employ the club of economic warfare and draw the ire of one’s own class peers? What was the purpose of all this bluster and bravado?
Is it a ploy — with the November 2020 election less than a year and a half away — to whip up racism and xenophobia and energize Trump’s base of support?
Whatever the motive and whatever the form — economic threats, racist walls, deportation, detention, family separation, hate propaganda, repressing solidarity or caging children and families — scapegoating migrants and the countries they come from is never “beautiful.” It is the ugly face of capitalist super-exploitation of oppressed nations and an insidious tool to divide the working class.
Building solidarity with migrants is the most pressing task of the workers’ movement.