A Weekly Roundup of Politics: Tariffs and the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border

Trump Threatens Further Tariffs on China

Trump escalated his trade wars with both China and Mexico this week. In early May, the White House came away from trade negotiations with Beijing empty-handed after battling back and forth over tariffs the Trump administration had imposed in the fall of 2018. This 10% tax on over $200 billion worth of Chinese goods instigated a retaliation from China taxing $60 billion of US goods.

This trade war isn’t fighting for American jobs, or to protect the American farmer. Instead, the Trump Administration is attempting to secure better opportunities for American companies that want to do business in China — things like intellectual property protection and making it easier for US companies to receive access to the Chinese market. Trump threatened to increase his 10% tariff to 25% by March 2019 if his conditions weren’t met, and this week reiterated his intent to fulfill that promise.

The Chinese economy is deeply dependent on the US as its largest trading partner, so Trump is attempting to capitalize on that fact… but Beijing is not backing down. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned this week that the rise in tensions between the two countries will likely cause a .5% dip in global GDP in 2020, resulting in $455 billion in losses worldwide. In a blog post, IMF director Christine Lagarde stated: “Protectionist measures are not only hurting growth and jobs, but they are also making tradable consumer goods less affordable — and disproportionately harming low-income households.”

Tariffs on Mexico and the Border Crisis

The White House also announced last week that the US will be imposing tariffs on Mexico until they can stem the influx of asylum seekers reaching the southern border. A 5% tariff is set to go into effect on Monday, which will gradually increase to 25% by this fall if Mexico is unable to appease Trump’s demands. These demands include preventing migrants from entering Mexico in the first place and cracking down on bus companies and other organizations that are transporting refugees and migrants through Mexico. Discussions last week alluded to requiring Mexico to become a “safe third country.”

If Mexico is indeed considered a “safe third country,” then migrants coming from Central America would not be entitled to asylum in the US as Mexico would be regarded as a safe place to resettle. Mexican authorities are unlikely to agree to this last stipulation, nor is the country considered by most to be a safe place for refugees and migrants to resettle. These tariffs will have substantial knock-on effects for swing states like Ohio and Michigan where the automobile industry manufactures many of their products and has a complex supply chain that sends materials back and forth over the border with Mexico. Texas, California, and Arizona will also see significant increases in the cost of doing business if the tariffs remain.

The Trump Administration is likely putting these tariffs into play with Mexico because Homeland Security is running out of money due to the highest rates asylum seekers have seen along the southern border in the nation’s history. April alone saw a record number of 109,000 migrants at the border. Moreover, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) estimate they interact with 2,400 families each day. This comes as the Administration cuts all educational, recreational, and legal funding for unaccompanied minors. The Department of Health and Human Services is begging Congress to pass an emergency funding bill that would allocate $2.88 billion to increase housing access for children’s shelters which are privately run.

Congressional Democrats are snapping back, demanding that removing these resources is inhumane and also illegal. By law, the US government is required to release unaccompanied minors to family members or legal guardians within 72 hours upon arrival. The Flores Settlement Agreement, which dates back to the Clinton Administration, requires migrant children to be removed from temporary housing within three days, but Homeland Security is just not able to keep up with the influx of arrivals. It also requires the US government to place minors in the least restrictive setting appropriate to each child’s age and needs, to provide notice of rights, safe and sanitary facilities, water, food, clothing, medical and dental care, temperature control, supervision, and contact with their family members.

There is literally no way the US government is meeting all of these requirements. Remember when they were holding people under a bridge in El Paso?

One border patrol agent recently stated: “When we have 4,000 people in custody, we consider that high. When we have 6,000, we consider it a crisis. Right now, we have 19,000 people in custody… it’s just off the charts.”

Early on in Trump’s presidency the Administration boasted of the low numbers of migrants passing through our southern border, but that has gradually increased as various nations in Central America continue to destabilize. Currently, most asylum seekers are coming from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. At the end of March, in retaliation to the influx, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was directed by President Trump to cut off all aid to these three countries.

This move will likely cause the opposite of his desired effect and deepen the crisis, so he’s forcing Mexico to stop the bleeding with a trade war. Instead of addressing the cause of the problem, the Administration is only responding to the symptoms which will continue to perpetuate a vast humanitarian crisis along our border. On Wednesday, US Border Patrol chief Carla Provost told a Senate judiciary committee: “We cannot address this crisis by simply shifting more resources or building more facilities. It’s like holding a bucket under a faucet… it doesn’t matter how many buckets you give me if we can’t turn off the flow.”  

So while Homeland Security begs for funding just to keep the lights on, countless fundamental human rights are being disregarded along our border.

Both Republicans and Democrats should recognize their responsibility to maintain basic human rights for children and families fleeing extreme violence in their home countries while they contemplate Trump’s request for billions for a border wall.

This Administration has shown it has no interest in offering aid to the nations that need it most, and therefore also isn’t concerned with the conditions in which child refugees will suffer at our border. While emergency funding is necessary, we should not expect the children held within the confines of US border camps to see their human rights be restored anytime soon… at least without a fight.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.  

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