President Trump at the border wall in Arizona
President Trump talks with Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott as they tour a renovated section of border wall in San Luis, Arizona. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The weekend of Aug. 22-23 was the busiest Tijuana to San Diego border crossing in living memory. There were four- and five-hour waits in all lanes, something that hasn’t happened since 1969, when President Nixon ordered Operation Intercept and officers searched every vehicle crossing from Mexico. 

“Operation Intercept” was directed by a political appointee in the Treasury Department, G. Gordon Liddy of future Watergate burglary notoriety. The operation’s goal was to hinder illicit drug smuggling by private cars. 

What happened last weekend was clearly not designed to hinder drug smuggling. In fact, when I questioned the Customs Border Protection officer who checked my identification why there was such a jam, he didn’t have a clue. But news reports show that the delays were caused by a new CBP program to limit border crossings, even though most who cross are American citizens.

And the jam wasn’t caused by individual searches. Instead, it was caused by an intentional effort to dramatically slow down crossing, and perhaps is a harbinger of more restrictions to come if President Trump wins a second term.

Last week, during a visit to the border fence in Yuma, Trump vowed again that Mexico will pay for his wall, and suggested a toll might be applied to cars crossing into the United States. Trump had previously floated the idea of taxing remittances — the money flowing back and forth between the United States and Mexico

In recent months, all-time remittance records have surprised observers because so many people have been furloughed by American employers. Fewer people are sending money, but the totals are larger.

Can Trump legally implement these economic punishments of people crossing into the United States or sending money to families in Mexico, Guatemala and other countries?

Would these economic punishments compare in legality to tariffs the Congress or the President can impose under the Constitution? I don’t see how. Tariffs can be applied to goods and services, but on people? 

Also, could the President impose this idea only on the Mexican border or would he have to impose the toll on the Canadian border and on every plane or ship landing in the United States from elsewhere?

Could the President or Congress impose a tax on remittances being sent out of the country to Mexico or would it have to be for all countries? I don’t see how he could just do Mexico and Mexicans.

It seems pretty clear that the result would be lawsuits — hundreds of them — with court decisions unanimously in favor of  hard-working people sending their own money to their families in Mexico.

They will not pay for Trump’s wall, and neither will Mexico. 

Of course, if Trump fails to be re-elected, construction on the wall will stop and he will have only completed a few miles of a wall that isn’t effective anyway. Billions of dollars will have been wasted when a simple work permit program would have slashed illegal border crossings to hardly enough to count.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a Marine Corps veteran, political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

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