Fox News' '3 Mexican Countries' gaffe perfectly sums up Trump's policies

On Sunday morning, an on-screen banner for an episode of “Fox & Friends” displayed “Trump Cuts Aid to 3 Mexican Countries” during a segment on the administration’s cut of hundreds of millions of dollars of promised foreign aid to help Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador deal with their ongoing security crisis.

Later in the day, Fox News issued an apology and clarified that they knew these nations were part of Central America and not of Mexico. However, the damage was done and the screenshots of the banner had been displayed far and wide among social media circles. Responses ranged from horror to laughter at the geographical mistake. Among Latinos/as, it confirmed that Fox News is not sensitive or knowledgeable of issues important to our community. I am originally from Costa Rica and I laughingly posted on Facebook that little did we know that, as Central Americans, we belonged to Mexico — and to please pass the mescal.

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Setting aside the humor, there are two important conclusions to draw on the timing of Fox News’ mistake:

  • the Trump administration’s view of Central America
  • the impending closure of the U.S.-Mexico border because of the recent surge of migrants

We are witnessing an unprecedented number of Central Americans seeking asylum at the U.S. border. They are escaping countries with failed political systems that are in part to blame because of the U.S. government’s long track record of overt and covert interference in the region.

We could go back a century to track what that interference looked like and highlight events such as the CIA’s orchestration of a 1954 military coup against a democratically elected president in Guatemala or the ways in which Ronald Reagan used the region as a Cold War proxy battlefield during the 1980s.

However, perhaps it is only necessary to mention one of the most recent cases, the takeover by the U.S.-backed military of Honduras’ government, which set in motion the catastrophic security crisis we are witnessing today. Not only were these military leaders solely interested in plundering the nation and disregarding human rights, they allowed for the rapid growth of organized crime that has spilled over to Honduras’s neighbors. 

The foreign aid the U.S. government had promised and was set to deliver was to correct its earlier mistake and to help bolster solutions to the security crisis that was driving so many to flee the country.   

Trump is now threatening to close down the border between the U.S. and Mexico this week because, according to what we are hearing, Mexico is not doing enough to stop the flow of immigrants escaping Central America. This must be frustrating to hear for the Mexican officials who have spent months cracking down on anyone entering the country’s southern border.

The new Mexican government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has extended work permits to Central American migrants and even agreed to house asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the border rather than at a U.S. point of entry. Closing down the border between the two countries will have a deep impact on the lives of many who must, for professional or personal reasons, travel across it on a daily basis. The lives of Americans and Mexicans along the border are intertwined and closing the border will undoubtedly impact them in the short, medium and long run.

Aside from the flow of people, it is unclear how this closure will impact the flow of goods between the two countries and begs the question: Does Trump know that Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest trading partner? Given the recent volatility on Wall Street and signs of an emerging recession, perhaps it is not the wisest move to disrupt financial relationships that depend on the border. 

For the Trump administration — much like Fox News — Central America is an extension of Mexico and immigrants fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are one and the same, as if we were, in fact, Mexicans. We are categorically viewed as a race of “suspect aliens” who, if present in the U.S., may be legal or illegal. We are a race of “others” who can easily be scapegoated for a whole slew of structural problems. 

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These problems are so profound that they have fueled a drop in life expectancy three years in a row, due largely to what is referred to as “deaths of despair” (suicide and drug overdoses). These problems — including losing jobs to automation or off-shoring, sky-rocketing costs of health care, the lack of access to education — afflict many Americans, such as those belonging to the 37 percent who continue supporting building a border wall. This support continues despite all evidence that the wall is the least effective in every category — cost, stemming the flow of drugs, addressing immigration — it is intended to address.

With Trump declaring border security a national crisis and threatening to close the border this week, we are witnessing another a glimpse of his true intentions akin to Fox News’ lack of oversight: This issue requires knowing nothing about how we as Americans have contributed to the security crisis in Mexico and Central America in the past and in the present. This debate forgets America's ties to these countries, namely through the consumption of drugs and the desire for cheap labor. If anything, it is about finding a convenient scapegoat to deflect attention from the true crisis around us.

Gladys McCormick is an associate professor of history in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.