President Donald Trump announced a series of escalating tariffs on Mexico’s goods until its leaders curbed illegal immigration. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
The punitive measure, starting at 5 percent on all goods, is aimed at stemming the tide of Central American migrants crossing the U.S. border.
Updated 05/30/2019 09:46 PM EDT
President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all goods from Mexico until its leaders took steps to curb illegal immigration to the United States.
“On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied … at which time the Tariffs will be removed. Details from the White House to follow.”Story Continued Below
A short time later, the White House followed up with details: The tariff will increase to 10 percent on July 1; 15 percent on Aug. 1; 20 percent on Sept. 1; and 25 percent on Oct. 1.
“Americans are paying for this right now,” Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told reporters. “Illegal immigration comes at a cost. American taxpayers are paying for what’s going on at the border. This is already impacting the economy negatively.”
Trump has long been frustrated with his administration’s inability to halt the tide of immigrants at the southern border, but never more so than as he runs for reelection on a record that includes little of what he promised on immigration in his 2016 campaign.
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Trump has long accused the Mexican government of failing to do enough to stem the tide of Central American migrants who have been crossing the border. His administration has struggled with how to deal with the increase in immigrants, which has reached its highest level in years. U.S. Border Patrol arrested nearly 99,000 migrants at the border in April, many from Central America, and U.S. immigration officials now have a record number of people in custody.
Mulvaney told reporters Thursday night that Trump was using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the president the authority to regulate commerce during a national emergency. He said tariffs would remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially halted the stem of immigrants crossing the border. But when he was asked for a specific number of reductions, Mulvaney declined to say, calling the situation “fluid.”
“If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed,” the White House said in a written statement.
The acting Homeland Security secretary, Kevin McAleenan, said Mexico needed to increase operational security on the border, get tougher on criminal operations and help the U.S. on asylum cases. But he, too, declined to provide specific numbers.
Trump made the announcement on the same day that the administration took a procedural step that would allow it submit the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to Congress for a vote this summer. That agreement, which is an update of the 25-year-old NAFTA, locks in tariff-free trade between the three countries.
It also came while Vice President Mike Pence was flying back from Ottawa, where he discussed the trade agreement with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.
“Our administration is working earnestly with leaders in the Congress of the United States to approve the USMCA this summer,” Pence said in Ottawa before departing. When he was asked about the possibility of a new tariff, the vice president said that Mexico and Congress needed to do more on immigration.
Mulvaney said the trade deal was completely separate from the tariffs that Trump threatened to impose Thursday, calling this an issue about immigration, not trade.
The United States imported $346 billion worth of goods from Mexico in 2018. That includes tens of billions of dollars of cars, trucks and auto parts. Trump’s threat to impose new tariffs on Mexico comes just a few weeks after he removed a 25 percent tariff on steel and aluminum exports from Canada and Mexico in order to pave the way in Congress for approval of the USMCA.
Mulvaney said White House officials spoke to Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress, who he said were largely supportive, though few reacted Thursday night after Trump made the announcement. Only hours before his tweet, senior administration officials said that Trump had not made up his mind about the tariffs.
After the president’s announcement, his supporters praised his action. Jenny Beth Martin, honorary chairwoman of Tea Party Patriots Action, said she applauded Trump’s “bold” action.
“It’s refreshing to see a President who’s willing to get tough, even with an ally, when our border is threatened — and who’s also determined to keep his campaign promises by making border security a top priority,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano and Jack Spencer released a statement calling the tariffs “the wrong policy for addressing the crisis at the border.”
“While Americans are greatly harmed by illegal immigration, these tariffs would only further punish our citizens, forcing them to pay more for basic goods and services every day – all because Washington has consistently failed to do its job,” the statement said.
The president is also considering sweeping restrictions on asylum that would effectively block Central American migrants from entering the U.S., several administration officials and advocates briefed on the plan said earlier Thursday. A draft proposal circulating among Trump’s Homeland Security advisers would prohibit migrants from seeking asylum if they have resided in a country other than their own before coming to the U.S.
Trump’s idea to use tariffs as leverage on immigration is not new. He said last month that a recent deal with Mexico on auto exports wouldn’t count if the country failed to stop Central American migrants from illegally crossing the border. The president said he would give Mexico one year to curb illegal border crossings before pulling the trigger on new tariffs — a softening of his earlier threat to close the border entirely, but one that could still inflict economic damage on both countries.
Doug Palmer contributed to this report.
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