Donald Trump’s critique of NAFTA neglects to mention that construction of the border wall – which already exists – began with the 1992 free-trade agreement, says journalist Todd Miller
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Following his trip to Mexico, Donald Trump, Republican nominee for President, took to the stage in Arizona on Wednesday night to clarify his shifting opinions on immigration policy, and specifically about what he plans to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. On to discuss this with me is Todd Miller. He’s a journalist based in Tucson, Arizona covering border issues. He’s the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatchers from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. Todd, good to have you with us. TODD MILLER: Good to be here, thanks. PERIES: So Todd, first let me get your initial reaction to Donald Trump’s immigration speech. Much of the media speculated that he was going to clarify his positions and he was going to soften up on immigration policy in the United States, but that’s not what happened. MILLER: No. In fact, he doubled down on his initial promises. Especially around the pledge he made in June of 2015 to build a border wall, a southern border wall, between the United States and Mexico. In fact, he said last night to roaring applause in Phoenix that he was going to build a powerful, impenetrable, beautiful wall on the southern border and that it would be equipped with the most sophisticated technology. That there would be sensors, below-ground sensors, above-ground, aerial surveillance, surveillance towers, and even more border patrol agents. And it’s really, really interesting to hear him talk, even since he’s been announcing that he was going to build a border wall over a year ago, because one thing that already exists on the U.S.-Mexico border is s border wall. There is about a 700-mile-long, often 20-foot-high border wall. It is equipped with high tech sophisticated technology. There’s surveillance towers and cameras and night vision cameras and 12,000 motion sensors implanted below the ground. So in many ways–although if Trump were to win the presidency he would definitely build upon it–he is describing what we already have on the border. PERIES: Just in terms of buying it then making the wall 8 foot taller as he said. But what’s interesting is that at the onset of his speech, Trump said something very interesting about what the fundamental problem with our immigration is today. Let’s have a look. DONALD TRUMP: The fundamental problem with the immigration system in our country is that it serves the needs of wealthy donors, political activists, and powerful, powerful politicians. That’s all you can do. Thank you. PERIES: So Todd, Donald Trump isn’t entirely wrong here. Does benefit a lot of people in this country. Mainly through the low wage sector that new immigrants and illegal immigrants provide in this country and who benefits is the corporate sector, the informal sectors, and of course the low wage sector. You know, there’s been such a fight here for the Fight for $15 trying to get people paid a living wage here, but many sectors are able to keep their wages suppressed because of the illegal immigration to this country. So who’s benefiting from all of this low wage immigrant labor? MILLER: Yes, definitely the corporate class is benefiting from that, as Donald Trump rightly says. Which brings me to one of the cornerstones of Trump’s campaign, which is I would suggest that he wrongly says that we should build a border wall. But he rightly critiques the North American Free Trade Agreement. What Donald Trump does is look at the North American Free Trade Agreement only through the eyes of the U.S. worker. What has happened in Mexico is completely ignored. What has happened in Mexico with NAFTA is, for one example, of many over 3 million small farmers have been displaced because they can no longer compete with highly subsidized U.S. agro-businesses such as Cargill, and many of whom had to in the mid 1990s after the implementation of NAFTA had to get up and leave. And many actually migrated to the United States in historic numbers. There was historic migration from Mexico to the United States from 1995-2008 when the great recession hit. And when you think about the wall building of the United States on the US-Mexico border it actually began right when NAFTA was implemented more than 20 years ago. That’s when it started. PERIES: Todd, there was a lot of myth-making about the criminality of what undocumented workers. In fact, he paraded a number of families onto stage that had suffered or were victims of crime done by undocumented workers. How real is it? From what I have read there is very little illegal activity on the part of undocumented workers. What are your findings? MILLER: It was definitely a politicized moment when he brought up families who made up the claims that they made. You could literally go find anyone who’s been, something’s happened to you from a certain sector. When the reality is that you know when there’s been studies done about in immigrant communities, especially undocumented communities are the safest communities. They’re the ones with the least violence and least crime. What Trump is doing is filing a long well troughed and actually really sad history of criminalization of undocumented people, and that was just another display of such a political theater. Meant most likely for people to support his immigration policies and then justify his draconian solutions to them. PERIES: Now, much of the speech focused on the deportations that Trump is going to carry out on his first day in the office. What Trump is suggesting here really means that many families, particularly undocumented parents that have had children in the United States that are legally here, will be separated if he carries out these deportations. This is really against much international law on family reunification. Does he realize what he’s suggesting here? MILLER: He probably doesn’t. And again he’s following something that’s already happening. For example, I just had the stat just fresh in my head. In 2013, 72,000 people, parents of children born in the United States, were forcibly removed from the United States via a deportation. This idea of forced family separation through deportation is already U.S. policy. If you look from the annual deportation numbers from the early 1800s, which were about 2,000 per year, to recent years which are about 400,000 on average per year, we’re talking a massive increase in deportations which includes large budgets for infrastructure to be able to report people. We have over 250 immigration detention centers where 34,000 people are warehoused on any given day. And what Donald Trump is saying about deportation–mind you, he didn’t mention the 11 million like he had before. He did not mention that last night. But what he is talking about is continuing and probably bolstering this deportation regime that we already have in place. PERIES: What he did say about the number of undocumented people in the country, which he calls illegal immigrants, is that it could be he said 3 million, it could be 30 million. We don’t even know whether they live in million number–is correct. But Washington Post this morning issued a fact check on his speech and said there was well-documented federal statistics to indicate that the 11 million estimate might be off by a million or so, but not what he’s suggesting here. MILLER: Yeah, that’s one of the interesting things about numbers of undocumented people because people are undocumented. That means that they’re therefore uncounted. So numbers of undocumented people are always somewhat of an estimate. PERIES: All right, Todd, I thank you so much for your reaction to Donald Trump’s speech and we hope to have you back very soon. Thank you. MILLER: You’re welcome. Thanks a lot. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.