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Are Tariffs On Mexico The Right Way To Stymie Illegal Immigration?


A White House statement offers the logic behind President Trump's threat of tariffs against Mexico. The White House asserts the U.S. is being, quote, "invaded." Rather than an army, the White House is using that word for migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House accuses Mexico of, quote, "passive cooperation" with that migration. Mexico is told to do more to stop the migrants, or tariffs will steadily increase from zero to 5%, then 10, 15, 20 and onward to 25% by this fall. Mexico must act until the U.S. decides at, quote, "our sole discretion," that Mexico has done enough. That's the White House statement.

Joining us now is Brandon Judd. He's the president of the union that represents Border Patrol agents. He has been broadly supportive of President Trump. And he's back on our program. Welcome.

BRANDON JUDD: Hi, how are you?

INSKEEP: I'm OK. Do you support this move?

JUDD: I do. I do. I absolutely support this move.


JUDD: If you look at what we're currently facing, we are arresting more people today than we ever have in the history of the Border Patrol. We have Mexico, that is profiting off of the money that the criminal cartels are making. This is a billion-dollar organization. I'm sorry. This is a billion-dollar business that these criminal cartels are running. And that money goes into the economy in Mexico. So absolutely they're profiting off of these illegal aliens that are coming up through Mexico for the sole purpose of breaking our laws and coming into the United States.

INSKEEP: OK, let me...

JUDD: And Mexico absolutely should be helping...

INSKEEP: Just to clarify a couple of things, you mentioned the very high level of arrests. There's also been an increase in the number of people crossing the border, seeking asylum or just trying to - in various ways, to get into the United States, although we're still well below historic highs for migration. But it has gone up.

Now, the thing about profiting, I believe you're saying that there is profit in this trade of moving people or moving drugs. But this is a - this is a move against the government of Mexico, a demand for action by the government of Mexico. Do you believe the government of Mexico is profiting?

JUDD: Well, let me - let me go back and clarify what you just said. You said that we're not at historic highs. If you go back to when we arrested 1.5 million people, we were arresting the same people multiple times. So although we made more arrests, we weren't dealing with as many people. We are - we are currently dealing with more people than we've ever dealt with in the history of the Border Patrol.

We are currently arresting around 6,000 people per day on the southwest border. That's never happened before. Previously, it was a revolving door. As we would arrest people from Mexico, we would send them back to Mexico. And we would arrest that same person, sometimes multiple times in the same shift. I personally...

INSKEEP: And now you feel you're not doing that because people are from Central America, and they're sent farther away.

JUDD: No, we know we're not because we're not sending them back. These people...

INSKEEP: What about the profiting part? Is Mexico - I mean, when you say profiting, I get the idea that this is a Mexican deliberate plan. Do you think the government is coordinating this?

JUDD: No, I never said that the government is coordinating this.


JUDD: What I'm saying is that the criminal cartels that operate in Mexico, this is a multi-billion-dollar industry. If the criminal cartels are creating a profit, that money is obviously then going back into the Mexican economy. Why would the Mexican government want to stop illegal immigration when that money is going right back into their economy? When you look at what President Trump has done before, when he has threatened to shut down ports of entry, the Mexican government did, in fact, step up. And we saw drops in illegal immigration.

The Mexican government absolutely should be helping us, especially if they know that these people are entering their country for the sole purpose of coming - of working their way through their country to come up and violate our immigration laws.

INSKEEP: So - so the...

JUDD: They absolutely should be helping us.

INSKEEP: So the underlying presumption by the White House here is Mexico's not trying very hard. And if we punish them, they may try harder. You agree with that - that presumption that Mexico is not really trying very hard.

JUDD: Yeah because we've seen it before. I mean, we already have a history of this. And it has worked. So this, presumably, would obviously work again.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about possible side effects if these tariffs were to go into effect. Of course, Americans, broadly speaking, pay the tariffs. American businesses, American consumers, they pay higher taxes - could have some damage to Mexico's economy, though. We heard in the program from a Mexican economist who said, hey, if you damage Mexico's economy, that's just going to cause more people to need work. And they're going to head for the United States. You could increase migration. Are you concerned about side effects if the president goes through with this?

JUDD: Oh, I'm absolutely concerned about side effects. But until we see what those side effects are, we're talking about theory. Right now we know what has worked in the past. So if we have a proven history of what has worked, we should do it again.

INSKEEP: And what you think has worked is threatening Mexico and telling them to step up.

JUDD: Yes, it has absolutely, 100% worked in the past. And I think that it will work again.

INSKEEP: Brandon Judd, thanks very much, really appreciate your insights.

JUDD: Thank you, appreciate it.

INSKEEP: Brandon Judd is president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents CBP agents. And he's joined us a few times over the past couple of years.

Now let's bring another voice into the conversation. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration, has been listening in. What do you hear there, Joel?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, it's interesting the back-and-forth about the numbers. As you mentioned, the migration overall was higher 15 years ago. What we've seen recently is a big shift in who is coming to the United States, right? Back then it was single Mexican men. And as Brandon Judd said, often they would be apprehended more than once in a single shift, according to the Border Patrol - because it was easier to deport them under the law.

The people coming now are migrant families, mostly, in great numbers. I mean, in record numbers we're seeing migrant families from Central America, from Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras. And it's not as easy to quickly deport them because they're coming as family units. There are rules about that that the Border Patrol and CBP have to follow. And that's a much different situation that we find ourselves in.

INSKEEP: OK, so there is a difficult situation in the border. Let's get to the bottom line there. But then there's this presumption that underlies the president's plan, that Mexico is not really making an effort here and that if pressured, Mexico could do more. Is there a case to be made from independent reporting that Mexico is just sort of waving people through, is not really trying very hard?

ROSE: Well, our own John Burnett was down at the border in - of Guatemala and Mexico last month. And I think from what he could tell, it is largely an open border there. And to the extent that there are federal checkpoints, migrants are breezing through them because the smugglers have paid off immigration officials.

So, you know, the question is, can Mexico actually stop migration from Central America? I think it's very much an open question. I mean, it does not - and the independent reporting that we've done and that others have done suggests that they're not doing it now. And the question about whether they're capable is - you know, it's not one I can answer.

INSKEEP: Has there been an effort like this before to impose economic punishments on Mexico in exchange for - or in order to compel cooperation?

ROSE: There have been efforts to compel cooperation. I don't think any of them have looked quite like this.

INSKEEP: Joel, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

ROSE: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.