BONETA & GRUBBS: Thanks To Trump’s Tariffs, America Has An Immigration Win

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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Wait. What just happened? Mexico just agreed to police its southern border and become a “third safe country” in which Central American migrants can apply for asylum before breaching our border?

That wasn’t supposed to happen. It certainly wasn’t supposed to happen, to believe the preponderant commentary, if President Trump had anything to do with it.

But he did.

Worse, he did it by going against all conventional wisdom and defying centuries of free-trade doctrine: He used the threat of tariffs, to be ratcheted up over time if Mexico failed to act, as a diplomatic weapon.

For at least four decades the American government, the political class, and the vast, noisy punditocracy have debated, argued, fought, and failed to legislate a rational immigration policy. By stepping in and linking it to trade policy, our forty-fifth president produced an actual, measurable achievement that reframes this vexing issue.

It now lies with Congress, especially recalcitrant congressional Democrats, to produce a rational policy on immigration. President Trump has dealt them an opportunity, though they prefer to delay until next year’s elections, to do something for the American people and look good doing it.

Their first signals are not promising. Out on the stump, abetted by friendly media, the president’s visceral opponents have been casting as much doubt on the Mexico agreement as they can. They accuse him of resorting to fakery, gaslighting, and any other term they can summon to undermine this deal.

First came a report that Mexico had already agreed to such a deal months ago. So, ergo, the tariff threat had nothing to do with it. But you would have to see the world exclusively through a New York Times lens not to know President Trump has long combined trade and immigration as issues to be addressed with an all-inclusive arsenal.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador surely knew that if Yankee media did not.

Then came criticism — more legitimate, in our view — that the president opened the door for future presidents to weaponize tariffs. Joe Biden indeed has suggested he may deploy such weapons to combat climate change.

But illegal immigration is a tangible issue, and it has been bedeviling us for decades. Where is it written such issues can’t be addressed singularly? If a future president wants to deploy tariffs against the climate, not to mention the global political climate, he likely will not find willing global accomplices.

To be sure, the two of us are known as joyful exponents of a welcoming, expanding market economy. We always err on the side of free trade and an immigration system that makes it easier for hard-working foreigners to become legal. The market favors the realistic, not the ideological, however, and we recognize that Trump, in one sweep of the hand, reconfigured the chessboard dramatically.

That means bipartisan political opportunity.

For the Democrats, it means a chance to work constructively with the White House. If they continue to stall on immigration reform before November of next year, the American people will be unforgiving.

For his part, the president — to little media notice — has repeatedly punched through the narrative of him as a cold, restrictionist xenophobe. He has said without equivocation that he wants a tariff-free world, and he has clearly declared his merit-based desiderata of a streamlined immigration system.

Yes, he gives the private sector agita when he shows his willingness to fight tariffs with tariffs. And, yes, the crisis at the border may have intensified as a result of his harshest rhetoric.

But the president has dragged the issue kicking and flailing to the center of attention where it needs to be. It is a high-stakes game, and no president in our memory has been willing to play it. That is all to his credit, paving the way toward a rational immigration system.

The Trump administration’s preference for a free domestic market should comfort those of us who passionately want to see a world free of barriers to both products and individuals. That vision will not materialize if foreign leaders fail to understand our president means business.

President Lopez-Obrador, a demagogue who reveres Venezuela’s Chavista regime, clearly got the right message — for now. President Trump, with this big win, must work every day to block any effort by the Mexican socialist to exploit this agreement for his own leftward agenda.

At this moment, let’s applaud President Trump for his triumph. It’s a big one.

Martha Boneta is executive vice president of Vote America First, a policy adviser, political strategist, current affairs commentator, and a farmer. K. E. Grubbs Jr. served as communications director for former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and as editor in-chief of World Trade Magazine.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.