President Trump is set to unilaterally levy an escalating 5% tariff on all Mexican goods next week, and just about everybody is working diligently to stop them. The two countries continued talks Thursday, aimed at satisfying Trump’s demands that Mexico do more to stop the flow of migrants from Central America. To that end, Mexico has begun to deploy the National Guard on its southern border with Guatemala. Back in the States, members of the president’s own party have begun to show their own frustrations with Trump’s tariffs. This time, they might be serious.
While no agreement has yet been reached, those with knowledge of bilateral talks between the United States and Mexico describe the proposed changes as giving the U.S. greater ability to reject asylum seekers. Migrants would be required to seek asylum in the first foreign country they reach, rather than continuing on to the next. That means Guatemalans would have to seek asylum in Mexico, and Salvadorians and Hondurans in Guatemala. Mexico could also allow for those in the country seeking asylum in the United States to wait while their requests are processed.
Mexico’s Foreign Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, displayed outward optimism in Washington on Thursday. Ebrard announced his government would be sending the National Guard to stop the flow of migrants from its southern border. “We have explained that there are 6,000 men and that they will be deployed there,” Ebrard said. Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Martha Barcena, told CNBC Thursday their delegation “explained . . . all the enforcement measures that Mexico is taking,” and that “we are still talking about all the legal aspects of the cooperation that we are having on migration.”
Trump’s tariff announcement caught many fellow Republicans by surprise last week. This week, they’re still not thrilled about the idea. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans sent the White House a stern and almost unprecedented warning: not only do they have the votes to block his proposed tariffs, they’d have the votes to override a potential veto too. “There is not much support for tariffs in my conference, that’s for sure,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) summed up. Still, Republican Senators, particularly in Texas and Ohio, which would be among the hardest hit by tariffs on Mexican goods, were hopeful they wouldn’t have to get in to hypotheticals.
In attempting to please the base, and deliver on his signature campaign promise, the president may not have prepared for all the contingencies. If his tariffs go in to effect Monday, as promised, they’ll amount to the biggest tax increase in fifty years. Customs officials, used to decades of free trade across the border, don’t have the infrastructure to collect those tariffs, and it’s not likely they will by the end of the weekend. Acting or not acting could further imperil passage, in all three national legislatures, of the president’s much-desired U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Still, Trump’s threat was ambiguous enough to give the administration plenty of leeway to say that they’re satisfied with Mexican concessions. By Monday, the president might just declare victory.