And Who’s Gonna Pay for it? The Costs of Trump’s Anti-Mexican Platform

Among large swaths of Republican voters, it is a universally acknowledged truth that the next President of the United States must enhance border security between the U.S. and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country and to protect American jobs. Perhaps the most pervasive of these policy proposals is Donald Trump’s monolithic response to immigration control: “We’re gonna build a wall, and Mexico’s gonna pay for it.” Trump’s isolationist platform eschews international cooperation in favor of an American exceptionalism that completely disregards the globalized nature of current affairs. While crowds of supporters enthusiastically echo Trump’s wall demands at his rallies, the spread of their anti-Mexican rhetoric threatens U.S. foreign relations with its neighbor, and consequently, threatens the future of the U.S. economy and national security.

Though the specifics of his plan remain unclear, Trump asserts that his $10 million wall, measuring around 35 feet tall (and “it just got ten feet higher”) would impede the flow of alleged criminal activity from Mexico to the United States. With the Patriot Act serving as his legal framework, Trump claims he has the “moral high ground” to impose stricter border regulation at Mexico’s expense; not only does Mexico’s “unfair subsidy behavior” threaten U.S. jobs, Mexico has an obligation to offset the “extraordinary daily cost of this criminal activity, including the cost of trials and incarcerations.”

Citing the U.S.’s powerful economy and political dominance as coercive tools, Trump assures that Mexico will pay for the cost of a border wall “in one form or another,” through economic sanctions, trade tariffs, and/or greater trade regulation. According to the platform on Trump’s campaign website, “Mexico needs access to our markets much more than the reverse, so we have all the leverage and will win the negotiation.” As Trump pushes his characterization of Mexico as a country of “cunning” criminals who take advantage of the U.S.’s economy, he builds an isolationist discourse that ignores the value of our international relations and paints the U.S. as a self-sufficient hegemon that can bully its neighbors into any position.

In response, however, past and present Mexican leaders have reassured their constituents that Mexico will not bend so easily to Trump’s will. In an interview withExcelsior, current Mexican President Peña Nieto likened Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric to the fascist mechanisms of Mussolini and Hitler, warning that his unrealistic political strategy presents “simple solutions to problems that, of course, are not so easily solved.” Acknowledging that trade relations with the U.S. are vital to the Mexican economy, Peña Nieto expressed hope to continue cooperation with the future president, whoever he or she may be. Nonetheless, the Mexican government firmly maintains that Trump’s border wall will not be constructed with any support, financial or otherwise, from Mexico.

Regardless of the feasibility of Trump’s prospective wall, his anti-Mexico platform gravely threatens the U.S.’s relationship with an important regional ally. The North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, has been instrumental in promoting economic growth and development throughout Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. Since its beginnings in 1994, NAFTA has strengthened interactions between the U.S. and its neighbors; through the arrangement’s framework, the three nations have instituted mechanisms to facilitate intergovernmental relations and forums for dispute resolution. Admittedly, the tripartisan trade agreement is entrenched with asymmetrical power divisions between the three partners—studies demonstrate the U.S. influencing policy decisions in Canada and Mexico without the reverse occurring. That being said, the United States economy has enjoyed significant benefits from NAFTA, and a fair amount of its success is pinned to the agreement’s success.

Currently, Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest goods trading partner, the second largest export market, and third largest supplier of goods imports—in 2015, total goods traded between the two nations amounted to $531 billion. Moreover, the Department of Commerce estimates U.S. goods and services to Mexico supported 1.1 million American jobs in 2014. Since creating stronger economic ties with the United States, Mexico’s economy has transformed into a new level of competitiveness. While the Mexican economy felt some pressure from lowered oil prices and reduced production, its expansion of exports to the United States encouraged economic growth in 2015. Projections of Mexico’s financial future also appear positive; if Mexico continues to develop close economic relations with the U.S., the World Bank forecasts a gradual acceleration of growth in coming years.

Furthermore, the towns and communities located along the U.S.-Mexico border comprise the fourth largest economy in the world, and in order to encourage greater development in this region both governments must coordinate their local and national economic policies. To build upon the region’s strengths, U.S. perceptions of the border area must transform to recognize its potential as an asset rather than a problem. Successful interaction on either side demands a more developed cross-border infrastructure—not to divide and separate, but to create more windows for international exchange. By continuing to support Mexico’s growth and development, the U.S. encourages competition in North America on a global scale, benefitting all three national economies. Despite Trump’s populist rhetoric, investments from the U.S. to Mexico are more than one-sided aid packages—the U.S. benefits from stronger relations with its southern neighbor.

Additionally, the existing economic ties between the two countries have helped reinforce their diplomatic relationship, especially in addressing similar security concerns like drug related violence and illegal immigration. Through programs like the Merida project, the U.S. has assisted the Mexican government scrutinize law enforcement and institutionalize rule of law south of the border. While this program enjoyed limited successes, it serves as a starting point for further cooperation in the fight against drug-related violence. In her article, U.S. and Mexican Cooperation: The Merida Initiative and Drug Trafficking, Yasemin Tenkin argues the U.S. could more effectively eradicate root causes of the illicit drug trade and drug related-violence by investing further in Mexico’s economy, targeting poverty and unemployment. To address these security concerns, the U.S.’s conceptualization of Mexico must shift to recognize it as a permanent, strategic partnership. Contrarily, Trump’s isolationist discourse suggests the U.S. renounce its links to Mexico, failing to recognize the positive economic effects both countries experience as a result of their working relationship.

The increasingly populist tone of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Mexico has led to tension in the past decade, occasionally putting a strain on diplomatic decision-making; as such, a Donald Trump presidency that maintains this rhetoric would place bilateral relations between the two nations at risk of severe deterioration. From Trump’s perspective, the U.S. enjoys a hegemonic status in the sphere of foreign affairs, and may wield its political power for leverage in its international relations. What Trump’s rhetoric fails to recognize, though, is that his brand of isolationism is ineffective in today’s globalized reality. In order to achieve progress in shared policy areas such as immigration reform or weakening the drug trade system, the U.S. must maintain a working partnership with Mexico. If Trump were to stifle the Mexican economy’s growth and cut off remittances, as he proposes, the consequential loss of income for Mexico’s vulnerable population would provide prospective immigrants an increased incentive to seek better opportunities in the U.S. Ignoring the role of American consumers in perpetuating the influx of illicit drugs and failing to coordinate policy with Mexico decreases the U.S.’s ability to address long term solutions to cross-border dealings.

By promoting a characterization of Mexico as a dependent, underdeveloped, and violent country, Trump and his supporters disregard the value of Mexico’s growing economy, and hence fail to recognize the benefits of the U.S.’s partnership with Mexico. Without cooperation and coordination between the two countries, the U.S. would suffer the loss of a significant trade partner and destroy myriad opportunities for economic growth and employment, weakening North American competitiveness in the global market. In regards to national security, Trump’s failure to recognize Mexico’s potential as a cooperative, problem solving partner rather than the source of conflict weakens the U.S.’s ability to create far-reaching policy solutions to stabilize the border. So who’s gonna pay for that wall, Mr. Trump? Looking at the likely economic and political future of a U.S. without strong bilateral relations with Mexico, it looks like the United States stands to bear more costs than the presidential hopeful foresees.

Erin Campbell is a student in the School of International Service class of 2017. She can be contacted at

All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.


About Erin Campbell

Erin Campbell is a senior at American University double majoring in Spanish and International Studies. In her studies, she has developed a concentration in human rights and Latin America. During her junior year, she spent time studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Edinburgh, Scotland. Erin is a staff writer for the Americas column with the World Mind.