When President Donald Trump first floated the idea of a southern border wall, way back in June 2015 while announcing his candidacy, man-made barricades and natural barriers guarded more than 82% of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico divide, according to data from the Government Accountability Office.
Meanwhile, nearly 6 million Mexican immigrants illegally resided in the United States, equaling less than 2% of the citizenship. Research had shown that immigrants commit far fewer crimes than native-born individuals. And economists from Trump’s own alma mater, the Wharton School of Finance, concluded, “The experience of the last few decades suggests that immigration may actually have significant long-term benefits for the native-born, pushing them into higher-paying occupations and raising the overall pace of innovation and productivity growth.”
Now, fast-forward to present day, and President Trump has mentioned the wall dozens more times. He’s promised heights in excess of 50 feet and quoted costs of up to $12 billion, though the Department of Homeland Security estimates a $21.6 billion price tag. And the force with which he has done so seems to suggest that the question isn’t whether the wall should or will be built, because that appears inevitable. Rather, will Mexico really pay for it? And how, exactly, will they do so?
For educated insights and predictions about how this epic drama will play out and what that ultimately means for our wallets, we posed this one question to a panel of leading experts: Will Mexico pay for the wall? You can check out their responses and bios below.
Mexico Will Pay for the Wall
- “What makes President Trump’s claim that `Mexico will pay for the wall’ so effective is that it could easily happen. NAFTA is due for renegotiation and it will be a useful vehicle for President Trump’s demands. The original NAFTA was expected to generate a modest 6 billion dollars a year in new trade flows; a renegotiation could affect billions more. With billions of dollars on the line, President Trump could characterize any concession in negotiations as a wall-payment, and inflate the expected economic gains to make them match the cost of his reinforced concrete monument to nationalism.”
- Robert Gulotty // Assistant Professor of Political Science, The University of Chicago Committee in International Relations
- “While Mexico is unlikely to cut the U.S. a check, the Trump White House will find a way to explain how Mexico is paying for the program—most likely through changes in trade policy.”
- Artemus Ward // Professor - Department of Political Science & Faculty Associate - College of Law, Northern Illinois University
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Mexico Will Not Pay for the Wall
- “Mexico will not pay for the wall, either directly or indirectly. … Mexicans view their relationship with the US through the lens of a long history of US interference in Mexican affairs. This has been muted over the last two decades, but Trump’s insistence on sending Mexico the bill for a “wall” has re-awakened nationalist sentiment. The Trump administration could impose tariffs on Mexican goods coming into the US as a way of paying for a new “wall” or Congress could impose additional taxes. Either of these moves would invite retaliation and raise the price of goods sold in the US. In the end, it would be American consumers, not Mexicans, who paid for the cost of Trump’s fantasy wall.”
- Michael Jones-Correa // Presidential Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
- “In the President’s words, the process may happen ‘in a complicated form.’ What are some of the different ways? Suggestions raised—and at times retracted—by the President and his supporters include import taxes, impounding or taxing remittances, visa fees, or border tariffs. Critiques of these strategies—in terms of their impact on regional economic health, their legality, their price to U.S. consumers, or their political costs—are equally numerous. Ultimately, convincing the U.S. public that Mexico is paying for the wall may come down to a complicated ‘Trust me’ on the Administration’s part.”
- Eva A. Millona // Executive Director, MIRA Coalition, Boston
- “The Trump administration may impose a charge on Mexican imports and try to raise the funds that way. But a tariff directed at Mexican imports alone would be a blunt instrument, calling forth a response in kind and perhaps triggering a trade war. More importantly, prices in the United States would rise, American businesses and customers would have to pay more for parts and products, and in this sense Americans, rather than Mexicans, would end up paying for the wall. The tariff would quickly become unpopular politically. It is unlikely, therefore, to be implemented.”
- Kevin Kenny // Chair, Department of History, Boston College
- “For decades, the American policy has been to spend billions of dollars on the border, and then welcome the lucky few who make it (or overstay their visas) with job offers.With one hand, we say “no entry,” and with the other, we say, “welcome.” Given the lack of sense in our policy regarding undocumented workers, Mexico would be foolish to contribute anything for any border barrier. And America would be foolish to build it. ”
- John D. Skrentny // Professor of Sociology, University of California-San Diego & Co-Director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies
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The U.S. & Mexico Will Both Pay for the Wall
- “Mexico is never going to pay for a border wall and the American people shouldn’t either. President Trump’s $25 billion border wall is a foolish proposition that will most likely never be built. The president’s scheme to raise tariffs on Mexican goods would only boomerang back around and hurt American consumers.”
- Bob Duff // Majority Leader, Connecticut State Senate
- “The wall will end up being paid by all the parties involved because it symbolizes a bad and old-fashioned approach to economic relations between neighbors. Instead of building trade and migration relationships that benefit the flow of goods and factors, thereby increasing the total economic gains, it symbolizes a policy of unilateral rejection of this relationship. Particularly at a time when net migration from Mexico is minimal, trade integration is intense and beneficial for both countries, and security cooperation at the border is essential.”
- Esteban Rossi-Hansberg // Theodore A. Wells '29 Professor of Economics, Princeton University
- “Yes, Mexico will pay for the wall but only indirectly and not in full. It would be political suicide for President Peña Nieto to contribute even a peso of Mexico’s budget to what is viewed by many Mexicans as an affront to their dignity. So, U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook for the direct cost, which is now estimated at between $20 and $40 billion. But both Mexico and the United States will pay in other ways if the wall becomes a reality.”
- Katrina Burgess // Associate Professor of Political Economy, Fletcher School, Tufts University
- “Although there are ways in which Mexico will seemingly pay for President Trump’s proposed wall, the cost will ultimately be borne as well by the United States. Taxes on Mexican imports would punish American consumers who would have to pay a high price for the same goods. These taxes would also hurt US companies that supply Mexico’s maquiladoras with intermediate goods before they are exported back to the US, since demand for those goods will decrease. And since Mexico is likely to retaliate, US companies’ ability to export duty free to Mexico would likely be affected, reducing these companies’ ability to do business and hurting their bottom line.”
- Gustavo A. Flores-Macías // Associate Professor of Government, Cornell University
- "Are we discussing a “wall,” or really a series of different kinds of barriers? And don’t these already exist, in part? If the completion of additional barriers is to be a new involuntary joint venture with Mexico, what, exactly, is the basis for asking them to help pay for the defense of the United States’ Southern border? Should El Salvador, and other Central American countries, also be asked to help pay for any wall since they are responsible for recent border surges of illegal aliens?"
- Stanley Renshon // Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York and Certified Psychoanalyst
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