2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is threatening to block billions of dollars in money transfers — known as remittances — that immigrants living in the U.S. send back to Mexico to support their struggling family members.
Trump laid out this idea in his most detailed immigration policy proposal to date explaining how he plans to make Mexico pay for a “beautiful” wall along the southern United States border. Getting Mexico to finance a new wall is a centerpiece of Trump’s border security platform that has already been heavily ridiculed by Mexican officials.
Each year, the average immigrant who’s sending money to Mexico sends about $1,900 to their family back home — money that’s desperately needed to reduce immediate poverty among their family members. This money helps provide basic food and shelter for some poor communities.
The two-page memo — first obtained by the Washington Post — explains that, if elected president, Trump would threaten to cut off the flow of money into Mexico by changing a rule under the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law. He says he would block remittances until Mexico makes “a one-time payment of $5–10 billion” to the U.S. to pay for the wall.
“It’s an easy decision for Mexico,” Trump said in the memo. “Make a one-time payment of $5–10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.”
But experts who spoke with the Washington Post indicated that Trump’s interpretation of the Patriot Act was too “expansive” and would “surely be litigated.”
Although Trump hasn’t before outlined this particular policy plan, other anti-immigrant politicians have also suggested that the United States should force Mexico’s hand by blocking remittances. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — the architect of Alabama and Arizona’s stringent immigration state laws and a Trump supporter — echoed the Republican presidential frontrunner’s plan in February practically word for word.
“We have the ability to shut down the flow of remittances to Mexico from illegal aliens working in the United States,” Kobach said at the time. “Mexico will then have to make a choice: Either make a single payment of $5 billion to $10 billion to the United States to pay for the wall, or lose most of the $23 billion in remittances that Mexico receives every year from its nationals working illegally in the United States.”
Mexico received more than $24.4 billion in remittances in 2014 from immigrants living in the United States, which makes up about two percent of the Mexican GDP, according to World Bank data. Losing that money could devastate the country’s economy.
Trump claims that the “majority of that amount comes from illegal aliens. It serves as de facto welfare for poor families in Mexico.” In fact, according to Government Accountability Office report, Department of Homeland Security officials haven’t yet tracked down the immigration status of remittance senders.