The Trump Administration Will Trap Immigrants to Exploit Them at Home and Abroad - by Andrew Fleming

Perhaps what is most concerning about Trump’s wall is that it will be permanent. President Trump has four years (a dreadful eight at most), but a steel wall sunk six feet into the divide between America and Mexico is a scar that will cast a shadow over the two nations for decades. Pragmatically, the wall is silly. It is a 15 to 21 billion dollar testimony to the elected administration’s xenophobia, and one that can be bypassed with an eight-foot ladder. It is a mind-numbingly wasteful expense that ignores the fact that, since 2007, visa overstays have outnumbered border crossers by half a million (according to the Center for Migration Studies). And the administration knows these facts. The impending wall is just a symbol. A message for the impoverished weary immigrants of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras­—many of whom are mothers and children, who flee rape and murder in their home countries—that America is not a nation that accepts a desperate people yearning to improve their lives, but rather it is a nation that exploits them.

In my last Arcadia article on unauthorized immigration, I discussed what might be the more subtle effects of Trump’s rabid calls for ramping up deportations and border fortification: increasing the insecurity of U.S. migrant labor. The article argued that by demanding sweeping deportations, Trump aims to raise anxiety among migrant workers concerning their legal status. This will give employers substantial bargaining power as the workers will fear deportation if they fight their bosses over working conditions.

Since taking office, Trump’s proposals have only worked to verify this theory. Dramatically expanding on President Obama’s “serious crimes” policy, Trump’s orders for deportation permit the arrest and removal of any immigrant the authorities expect to have “committed a chargeable criminal offense.” This is key for exploiting migrant workers as it includes illegal entry and the use of a fake social security card. Many working immigrants need a fake card to get a job. And now with Trump’s order, the employers who have access to these little illicit blue cards have been given immense authority and control over their employees in the country without authorization. How can workers ever fight for fair conditions if their boss has evidence enough evidence to deport them? Thus, while industries like agriculture (the chief employer of migrant labor) ostensibly discourage immigration restrictions, the potential for worker for exploitation helps economically explain the lack of substantial industry pushback.


There is, however, an even more latent message in Trump’s wall, one that looks towards long-term corporate interest abroad: ensuring that labor costs remain low south of the border. The wall creates this lush manufacturing environment by preventing the movement of workers from Mexican factories to the U.S.. The greater the supply of workers for these factories, the lower the demand, and so the lower the labor cost, allowing for cheaper production of goods.  

The effect of this labor saturation will then be exacerbated by the wall, capping the flow of immigrants who come up through Mexico’s porous southern border from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras (the three highest sources of unauthorized immigration to the U.S. after Mexico). Since 2009, immigrants from these countries (known collectively as Central America’s Northern Triangle) have sought refuge from one of the world’s most violent areas. In recent years, each of the three countries has been named the murder capital of the world. Much of this violence is aimed at impoverished young women. El Salvador currently has the highest rate of femicide in the world with Guatemala not far behind. The attackers are seldom pursued or caught. Trapping desperate immigrants (who in many cases qualify as refugees) from the Northern Triangle benefits U.S. companies by adding more laborers to the market.

Fortunately for Trump, Obama left fertile ground for deportation and spurning these types of quasi refugees. In his administration’s massive deportation effort, where he deported more people than any other executive, President Obama prioritized immigrants with criminal convictions that carried a risk to the country’s national and public safety, listing these types as priority one and two. However, pressured by Republicans, the former President also had a third priority: anyone who arrived after Jan. 1, 2014, which includes many of those fleeing terror in Central America. It is these new arrivals that Trump is after with his wall. Under the new administration, it appears that those seeking asylum from terror will find only a steel wall, a barren detention center, and a flight back.  

The notion that Trump’s wall is latently cultivating conditions for American industry in Mexico of course contradicts his advocacy for returning manufacturing to American plants. Trump claims that he will smack tariffs on any dastardly company that produces its goods abroad. To what extent the president’s protectionism is authentic though, remains dubious. During the election, the Clinton campaign frequently pointed out that many of Trump business’s products were made in China, Mexico, and other foreign nations (a list of some of these products can be found in this Washington Post article). Additionally, in a 2005 blog post, the business magnet sustained that “outsourcing creates jobs in the long run.” On the other hand, Trump has always been xenophobic racist. (His crash into politics was demanding that the first-black president also be the first to show his birth certificate.) Consequently, it is likely that Trump will ardently pursue immigration policy that forces a fearful people to work cheaply at home and abroad and that his flashy protectionism harangues will fizzle out after a brief shot of ineffective tariff policy.


Trump’s rhetorical terror campaign on immigration has the wall working as a symbol before it is even built. The percentage of people caught crossing the Mexican-American border was down 36% in February 2017 compared to February 2016, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. This indicates that desperate people facing gruesome violence in Mexico and the Northern Triangle rather remain there than face the wall the new leader of the free world would have waiting for them. Ultimately, JFK’s line concerning the Soviet’s Berlin Wall appears truer on a more massive scale for Trump’s: that “it represents a resounding confession of failure and political weakness.” The U.S. has failed abroad and at home. Years of the country’s meddling in South and Central American politics have left that region susceptible to violent chaos. Instead of asking why these desperate people have come to its door, instead of acknowledging the danger that it is to be a young woman in one of these countries, the US breeds only fears and disdains.

The wall is cowardly. It is a refusal to take on the difficult tasks ahead. It is a refusal to end American exploitation of foreign workers. Once built, this wall will last until forcibly removed. It will last until, like the Berlin Wall, it’s torn down from both sides and chipped into crumbling artifacts, looked at in museums with heavy regret.

Andrew Fleming