White House Trade Adviser Defends Trump’s Tariffs, Says Mexico Is Exporting Illegal Aliens

May 31, 2019 Updated: June 2, 2019

President Donald Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico are based on national security and economy threats and are a response to Mexico’s “export” of illegal aliens, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said.

Navarro, speaking to CNBC on May 31, legally justified the president’s decision to impose a 5 percent tariff on all goods entering the United States from Mexico by citing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which requires a national emergency.

“Clearly, we have that at the border,” Navarro told the network, referring to the massive influx of illegal immigrants. Trump declared a national emergency on Feb. 15 to address the humanitarian crisis on the southwest border and to secure funds for border-wall construction.

Border Patrol officials had apprehended over 500,000 illegal aliens on the southern border, as of May 10. Navarro also made reference to what he said was Mexico’s biggest export to the United States.

“If you look at it from an investor’s point of view and a corporate point of view, what we have in Mexico is the export—one of their high exports—of illegal aliens. And it’s a criminal enterprise,” Navarro told CNBC.

The Mexican government needs to do three things, Navarro said: the first is to “interdict” the numerous choke points along Guatemala’s small 150-mile border, where he said most of the migrants were entering from. 

The second is for them to “break up these transnational criminal organizations and this supply chain,” and the third, he explained, is for Mexico to “keep their asylum-seekers on their side of the border,” citing the fact that Mexico has promised to help the U.S. with asylum.

“The numbers that we are facing here are staggering,” he added. “This is a crisis.”

Navarro also described the president’s move as not a “tariff war” but simply a measure to get Mexico “to do what it should be doing.”

In response to the initial fluctuations in the stock market following Trump’s move, Navarro urged investors to really listen to the reasons why Trump had imposed the tariffs.

“I would suggest to investors to look at this calmly. Look at what we’re trying to do. This is actually a brilliant move by the president to get Mexico’s attention to get them to help us,” he said, “Because, so far, they’ve just been standing by, and they really have the power to help us.”

Officials say that in the early weeks of May, apprehensions averaged over 4,500 people a day, pushing multiple Border Patrol sectors to “exceed their capacity to expeditiously process, transfer to ICE, or direct release.”

As of March 19, Customs and Border Protection said they began “releasing non-criminal, processed family units,” due to the limited capacity of ICE facilities.

“This is strictly about national security and threats to our economy from illegal immigration from a criminal enterprise,” Navarro said.

Trump, in announcing the move, said that the tariffs will increase with inaction by Mexico on the illegal immigration situation.

“The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied, at which time the Tariffs will be removed,” Trump explained on Twitter. “Details from the White House to follow.”

Navarro’s comments come as voter optimism around the economy under the current administration has boosted approval of Trump to its highest rating in two years, according to the latest data from the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey.

The results of the survey, cited by The Hill, and to be posted in full this week, found that 48 percent approve of the job Trump is doing—an increase of 3 points since the survey’s last result in March.

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