Donald Trump has actually kept the main promise of his 2016 campaign, because Mexico is paying for a "border wall." The only thing is that it’s not a physical wall and it’s not on the southwest border: It’s a wall of Mexican National Guard members on the border between Mexico and Guatemala, working to keep Trump's promises to the American people in the name of Mexican national security... and capitulation to their northern neighbor.
That wall was put to the test after thousands of Honduran migrants arrived at a bridge connecting southern Mexico and Guatemala on Saturday, clashing with Mexico's National Guard after Mexican authorities shut down the bridge and attempted to stop the migrants from making unauthorized entry elsewhere in the border region by promising those that registered for asylum in Mexico that they could obtain jobs there.
“I prefer love and peace,” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in 2019, in response to Trump's then-threats to close the U.S.-Mexico border unless Mexico acted aggressively on immigration enforcement. That “peace and love” turns out to look a lot like appeasing Trump, rather than providing assistance to people fleeing systemic poverty and violence from the neighbors to the south.
Mexico, of course, already has a history of cooperating with the United States on immigration enforcement, but it appears they have doubled down on it with Trump. It cannot be a coincidence that we are seeing images of Mexicans confronting migrants on its southern border only a week after the Congress passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace NAFTA. It seems that, when trade is involved, López Obrabor will choose the economy first — even though he won the presidency two years ago on a leftist, populist and essentially anti-Trump platform.
But López Obrador is not the only one allowing Trump to do whatever he wants to do in the region. The Trump "wall" of agreements to enforce American immigration policy for us extends well into Central America, and includes new third party agreements to upend the process for migrants to receive asylum in America that we have made with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — where political leaders desperate for American aid are more than willing to criticize the American president one minute and enforce his policies the next.
Trump's ability to get others to do his dirty work speaks to how the U.S. can still play the bully around its own backyard.
And while the virtual wall expands south, the real one is being constructed, at least in small sections, in the American southwest. From the looks of how acquiescent Central American leaders have been to Trump's demands, however, the physical wall might not actually be needed.
Never mind that those who flee places like Central America are doing it because decades of U.S. foreign policy has created the unstable, violent and poverty-stricken environment that makes a dangerous trek of thousands of miles, much of it on foot, to an uncertain end seem preferable to remaining at home. In El Salvador alone, more than 75,000 people died in a years-long civil war fomented by the United States in the name of stopping communism; our actions in much of Central America during the Cold War followed the same pattern. It is a stain on American history, and we as a country have never come to terms with the long-term damage we inflicted on the region.
Mexico is not just being asked to play the role of Trump's virtual wall against Central American migrants; Mexican migrants are now falling victim to the other walls Trump has been building. Yes, even as Mexico continues its role as Trump’s enforcer, the U.S. has begun using its agreement with Guatemala to send Mexican asylum-seekers detained at the U.S. border to that third country.
So what are we left with? For all the crowing by liberals that Trump has not built his wall and Mexico has not paid for it, he's proven that he doesn't have to. The president has, in the end, been able to push an immigration policy that criminalizes the people who need the most help from Americans. The irony is that, much like with his vaunted career as a supposed real estate magnate, Trump didn’t need to build very much to accomplish his stated goals. His ability to get others to do his dirty work — even those leaders who said they wouldn't help at all — speaks to how the U.S. can still play the bully around its own backyard with no consequences.
At least, there have to date been no no short-term consequences for Trump. But that could always change — if Americans really cared, and if they are ready to vote him out in November.