Daily Dispatch 9/25/2019: The externalities of Trump's immigration policies

Read more about .
 Quixote Center’s InAlienable program!

Daily Dispatch

September 25, 2019

In economics, externalities are costs that are not born directly by a business, or not calculated as part of the cost/benefit analysis of a firm producing some product. Examples can be polluted waterways that have to be cleaned at public expense, or the cost of removing solid wastes accumulated in the soil near a plant, or the costs to individuals of health issues that result from polluted air, ground and water. The point is the firm makes decisions without considering the costs to the community that result from its actions. Trump is obviously well schooled in this foundational aspect of capitalism - as his immigration policies are creating enormous costs for other people to carry. 


Despite the fact that unauthorized border crossings were at an all-time low when Trump took office, he launched a full assault on immigration, ramping up enforcement measures at the border while also restricting authorized paths to immigration. These measures carry enormous costs for entities other than the U.S. federal government, including public costs carried by state and local governments within the U.S. as well as Mexico and other states outside our borders.

A few stories that highlight this dynamic. USA Today ran this morning on the costs of the Border Patrol’s practice of simply dumping people at bus stops and train stations in communities around the country with no warning to local governments or non-government support networks. From the lead in to

When U.S. Border Patrol agents started dumping migrants at a San Antonio bus station in late March, sometimes in the middle of the night with no warning, Colleen Bridger didn't know what to do.

The assistant city manager wanted to speak with the Border Patrol to figure out what was going on, how to coordinate the drop-off times and how to assess the volume of migrants San Antonio could expect in the future. But because the Texas city is 150 miles from the U.S. - Mexico border and had never dealt with an influx of undocumented immigrants before, there was a problem.

"I didn't even know the right department or division or office to call," Bridger said. 

Since then, San Antonio has received more than 31,000 migrants released by the Border Patrol after they requested asylum. The city converted a former Quiznos restaurant into a migrant processing center, gave them food and medical screenings, provided cellphones so they could call relatives in the U.S, and partnered with a local church to provide overnight bed space. All told, those efforts have cost San Antonio more than $540,000.

The USA Today report documents $7 million in expenses to local communities so far in 2019 to care for immigrants after their release from detention. Local governments are increasingly frustrated with the administration for its practices that are unnecessary and ultimately cruel to migrant families. The costs carried by non-profits, who provide most services, are much larger overall.

At the state level, spending priorities track along the same partisan lines as the rest of immigration policy:

The California Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, authorized $29 million to help nonprofit organizations caring for migrants. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat, announced a state grant program to help compensate cities for the work they've done caring for migrants.

But in the Republican-led capitals of  Texas and Arizona, the only funding approved this year was to bolster border security. Texas approved $800 million to provide new technology and equipment for its Department of Public Safety officers manning the border, and Arizona approved funding to hire 48 additional state officers to join the state's Border Strike Force.

Outside our borders, the costs of Trump’s crackdown are also high. Mexico has been forced (threatened) to play an accomplice role in implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico” program. Currently, 40,000 people seeking asylum in the United States have been returned to Mexico to await hearings. These hearings just started two weeks ago - and are being held in tents set up in Texas border towns, with immigration judges presiding on a television screen while sitting in San Antonio. While the courts fall under Department of Justice jurisdiction, the Department of Homeland Security is paying for its part of this debacle out of funds skimmed from the Coast Guard.

In Mexico, as in the United States, most of the costs of the MPP are being borne by non-governmental organizations who are scrambling to set up shelters and provide other assistance to migrants trapped at the border. It is a border crisis fully created by the Trump administration.

Mexico’s government also “agreed,” after Trump threatened a series of tariff increases on products from Mexico, to dramatically expand its internal enforcement system and add security forces to its border with Guatemala. There was, however, nothing new about Mexico carrying these costs for U.S. administrations. From the

In the face of Trump’s bellicose border rhetoric, it is easy to miss the fact that since the 1990s, Mexico steadily has become the United States’ virtual wall keeping out Central American migrants. Four years after the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force in 1994, President Ernesto Zedillo carried out Operation Sealant to stymie the flow of migrants by deploying the armed forces to Mexico’s southern border. Shortly after Mexico’s democratic transition in 2000, President Vicente Fox adopted Plan Sur, which created security belts along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as well as along the Pacific and Gulf coasts. 

President Felipe Calderon further militarized efforts to deter, intercept and deport Central American migrants, including the 2006 Reordering of the Southern Border Plan. In 2014, President Enrique Peña Nieto adopted Plan Southern Border after there was a spike in unaccompanied minors reaching the U.S.

Though he doesn’t have a fancy-sounding plan, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration has also been cracking down on transitory migration. It’s been conducting raids to arrest undocumented migrants and intercepting caravans; now it says it will add 6,000 troops from its new national guard to the effort.

Last year the government of Mexico deported more - nearly twice as many - Central American immigrants as the United States, but Trump wants more. And Mexico will carry a big part of the cost of this enforcement obsession.

How to count the costs of all of this for immigrants is difficult. For authorized immigrants, there are increased fees, prolonged waiting times, and the stress of uncertainty as the rules seem to change daily under Trump’s USCIS. For asylum seekers - which is a legal avenue for entering the United States, or used to be - the costs are enormous. Finding shelter in Mexico to wait out time for an asylum hearing, trying to locate legal services - not provided, but almost required for a successful asylum application - is much harder from a border town in Mexico, and of course there is the personal cost of managing the uncertainty and safety for self and family. 

Immigration policy has been bad in the United States for a long time. a Guardian piece that talked about this history of enforcement measures - with a focus on detention. Trump has taken this broken, ad hoc system and utterly destroyed it as part of the political theater that constitutes governance today. On Trump’s own terms, the policies have failed. By any measure of decency, they are a travesty. And they are very expensive.