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KNAPP: Trump’s wall: Be careful what you wish for

Remember Donald Trump’s promise to not only build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, but make Mexico pay for it?

If that promise sounded sketchy, maybe even ridiculous when he made it, his campaign’s March 31 memo to the Washington Post makes it sound like an authoritarian, and likely disastrous, extortion scheme.

Trump’s proposal, in a nutshell, is to abuse provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act — allegedly intended to fight terrorism — to promulgate a proposed rule which would stop undocumented Mexican workers in the U.S. from sending money home to their families.

Since such “remittances,” according to Trump, come to nearly $25 billion per year, the Mexican government would gladly fork over a one-time payment of several billion dollars for the wall rather than lose the ongoing economic boost they get from the remittances. They cough up, Trump withdraws the proposed rule.

Pretty much the typical mob-style muscle job: “Nice mutually beneficial trade and labor arrangement we got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it …”

One problem with the scheme is that the incentive for the Mexican government to agree seems to exist only in Trump’s imagination. If Mexico doesn’t pay for the wall, he cuts off remittances from undocumented immigrant workers.

If Mexico DOES pay for the wall, and if it works as advertised, the number of undocumented immigrant workers getting through and sending remittances home plummets anyway. Why pay for the same results one would expect from not paying?

Fortunately it probably wouldn’t work. “Securing the border” is a dystopian fantasy for tyrants to indulge and for demagogues to sell to us panicky rubes, not something that can actually be done.

But suppose it COULD work? The big problem with the idea (above and beyond the sheer immorality of trying to bar peaceful human travel, that is) isn’t so much with how to finance it as how with badly it would damage the U.S. economy if it was built and if it worked.

Yes, Americans like to bellyache about “them foreigners, taking our jobs.” But Americans also like to buy fruit, vegetables and poultry at reasonable prices.

Cut out the undocumented immigrant work force and there’s a different kind of bellyache to worry about: The bellyache of hunger. To the extent that those things remain available at all with a million workers missing from the fields, they’re going to get real expensive, real fast.

Ditto roofing, landscaping and a bunch of other jobs Americans want done but don’t particularly want to do themselves and certainly won’t do for others for the pay an undocumented immigrant will accept.

Mexico might pay for the wall, but not nearly as much as you would pay for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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