Listening metaphorically: How Mexico will pay for the wall

Listening metaphorically: How Mexico will pay for the wall
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In the September 2016 issue of the Atlantic, Salena Zito diagnosed the chasm between opinions about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.  She wrote that “the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” That continues to be the case in 2019. 

Mexico paying for the border wall is a prime example. Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Democrats will 'certainly' beat Trump in 2020 Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE (D-Calif.) and other detractors speak as though President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE had said Mexico was going to write us a check. He didn’t. 

It reminds me of journalists’ and Democrats’ frustration when President Ronald Reagan responded to, “What is your strategy for the Cold War?,” with, “We win, they lose.” 


Some have speculated that the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement would change the balance of payments enough in favor of the U.S. to cover the cost of the wall. That’s possible. 

As I’ve noted in other writings, including a lengthy and detailed article in InFOCUS and a shorter article last month in this publication, permitting and requiring the Internal Revenue Service to determine eligibility for certain refundable credits susceptible to fraud would more than pay for several walls along the southern border. 

The improper payments the IRS makes in just one year under just two of those programs would pay for enough manpower, physical and virtual barriers to secure the southern border. In 2017 alone, the IRS made nearly $25 billion improper payments of refundable earned income tax credits and refundable additional child tax credits. 

Reducing remittances from the United States to Mexico is another way Mexico might “pay for the wall.”  Remittances are amounts migrants working in one country send to their home country. 

It is estimated that about 12 million people born in Mexico live in the United States and that half of them are here illegally. In 2017, remittances from U.S. to Mexico were $31 billion. It is estimated that two-thirds of the remittances to Mexico are from its nationals here illegally. 


Thus, Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally are taking $21 billion a year out of communities in the U.S. and sending it to Mexico.

Remittances from the U.S. are important to Mexico’s economy. Total remittances account for more than 2 percent of its gross domestic product, and more than 95 percent of them come from the U.S. If securing the border helped the U.S. hang on to some of the $31 billion annually that now goes as remittances to Mexico, then Mexico would indeed be paying for the wall. 

That is, if Americans (people in the U.S. lawfully), instead of illegal aliens from Mexico, held those jobs and didn’t send their earnings out of the country but instead spent them locally, U.S. communities would be $21 billion better off each year. And Mexico would be “paying for it.”

Eileen J. O’Connor was assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Tax Division for six years during the administration of President George W. Bush and a member of then-President-elect Trump’s Treasury Department Transition Team.