P. T. Barnum did not actually say, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
The maxim endures nevertheless, and if ever anything showed why, it is the chimerical immigration plan Donald Trump has managed to turn into a front-running presidential bid. On Tuesday, Trump shared that plan’s centerpiece with the Washington Post: his strategy to force Mexico to pony up the $5 to $10 billion he insists will be enough to build 1,000 miles of towering, impregnable wall. The squeeze-thy-neighbor gambit hits the Trump trifecta: it is at once vain, authoritarian, and asinine.
After ten months, The Donald’s stand-up routine has descended into self-parody: As the Myrmidons sing along, Trump first brays that he “will build the wall” (which, incidentally, would have no bearing on visa overstays, who account for nearly half of the illegal-alien population). Then, he vows to get Mexico to foot the bill, as if there were honor in extorting a poor but reasonably amicable neighbor into paying the vital border-security costs of a profligate superpower in whose budget $10 billion barely qualifies as a rounding error. (Compare, e.g., Trump’s promise to do nothing about unsustainable entitlements that are bankrupting the economy.) Yet, absent from most of his speeches to the ardent faithful — and from his campaign’s position paper, with which he seems unacquainted — is the vow he reserves for more progressive audiences and media interviews: He will readmit most of the 11 million illegal aliens (as he puts it, “the good ones”) with legal status after he wastes considerably more than $10 billion to chase down and deport them.
That is, while portraying himself as the scourge of illegal immigration, Trump is actually proposing amnesty of the “touch-back” variety occasionally championed by open-borders advocates. In Trump’s plan, deportation is not a security measure; it’s a laundering scheme. Mind you: That position paper of his laments “the influx of foreign workers [from illegal immigration],” which “holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans — including immigrants themselves and their children — to earn a middle class wage.” Which sentiment is hard to square with an amnesty plan that, by Trump’s own reasoning, will hold down salaries, keep unemployment high, and make it difficult for poor and working-class Americans to earn a middle-class wage.
Trump’s wall plan, now outlined for the Post in a memo scarcely one-and-a-half pages long (counting two large “TRUMP: Make America Great Again” headers), is equally harebrained. He says he will force Mexico to pay for the wall by contorting the Patriot Act, of all things, into a unilateral executive power to draft private money-transfer companies like Western Union into policing illegal-alien remittances to Mexico. In other words, 2016’s most successful “outsider insurgency” would replace the incumbent autocrat with a new autocrat. The Patriot Act is a counter-terrorism measure aimed at enhancing investigations of national-security threats, not illegal immigration. To the extent that it beefed up surveillance of money transfers, it was aimed at remittances to terrorist organizations, not to Mexico.
Many Americans, including many of today’s Trump boosters, have complained — and not without justification — that the government exploited the Patriot Act powers enacted in the post-9/11 moment to extend surveillance of financial transactions and communications in ways never intended by Congress. Yet these same Trump boosters are apparently content to have their man issue Obama-esque executive decrees under the guise of this erstwhile bane of their existence — as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, maybe asking Congress to pass a law addressing remittances to Mexico. Perhaps Trump has opted against approaching lawmakers because his idea, even if we dubiously assume its legality, is pointless.