- President Donald Trump announced Thursday that his administration will impose a five percent tariff on all Mexican imports beginning June 10 in order to curb illegal immigration.
- The White House later said that the U.S. will increase the tariffs by five percentage points every month after June until they reach 25 percent in October, where it will remain until Mexico reduces the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S.
- Several Republican lawmakers condemned the tariffs, arguing that they could undermine the ongoing efforts to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would impose a five percent tariff on all Mexican goods starting June 10, in an effort to put pressure on Mexico to control illegal immigration.
In a tweet, Trump wrote that the tariffs will continue “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.”
“The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,” he continued.
A statement later issued from the White House said the tariffs would rise by five percent every month after June, until they hit 25 percent on Oct. 1.
“Tariffs will permanently remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory,” the statement said.
The White House statement did not specifically outline how Mexico can meet Trump’s demands. “If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed,” it said.
In a press briefing, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said that there was not a specific target that Mexico was expected to meet. He also stated that the White House would address Mexico’s actions “on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.”
“We are going to judge success here by the number of people crossing the border,” Mulvaney said. “That number needs to start coming down immediately in a significant and substantial number.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded to the announcement in a letter to Trump on Thursday.
In the letter, which was later made public, López Obrador said that he did not want a “confrontation,” and emphasized the need for dialogue. “Social problems are not resolved with taxes or coercive measures,” López Obrador wrote.
However, at a press conference on Thursday night, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, Jésus Seade, described Trump’s announcement as “disastrous.”
Seade also indicated that if the Trump administration followed through, Mexico could react in a similar fashion.“If it will happen we must respond energetically,” he said.
“The correct thing would be to answer an eye for an eye, five percent on imports.”
U.S. Lawmaker’s Response
Many U.S. lawmakers also responded negatively to Trump’s announcement, including several Republicans who warned the president that the tariffs could derail the ongoing negotiations of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is Trump’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) condemned the tariffs in a statement and asked Trump to “reconsider” the move.
“If the president goes through with this, I’m afraid progress to get this trade agreement across the finish line will be stifled,” she said. “While I support the need for comprehensive border security and a permanent fix to illegal immigration, this isn’t the right path forward.”
Ernst echoed an earlier statement from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which is one of the bodies responsible for overseeing the USMCA.
“Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country,” Grassley said in a statement. “I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them.”
Trump’s announcement comes at as efforts to negotiate the USMCA were advanced this week. In a letter sent earlier on Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urged congressional leaders to start the treaty ratification process.
The same day, López Obrador officially asked Mexico’s Senate to ratify the deal as well, and Vice President Mike Pence was in the Canadian capital in order to promote the agreement.
Trump also recently agreed to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum that the U.S. had put on imports from Canada and Mexico as part of an effort to speed up negotiations. Canada and Mexico responded by lifting tariffs on U.S. products.
Now, experts and lawmakers worry the new wave of tariffs may send a contradictory message.
Trump Administration Defends Tariffs
Members of the Trump Administration defended the tariffs and argued that they were necessary to curb illegal immigration.
“Mexico has the ability to step up and do more,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Fox News Friday. “The president has been asking them for months to do that, and now he is putting some measures in place that hopefully will get them to engage more so that they will start to help us in this process.”
Other administration officials have framed Trump’s tariffs as an issue of national security, rather than trade.
“These are not tariffs as part of a trade dispute. These are tariffs as part of an immigration problem,” Mulvaney said in a briefing when asked whether or not the tariffs would undermine USMCA negotiations. “The American taxpayer is paying for what’s going on at the border.”
This sentiment was also explicitly addressed in the White House’s statement on the tariffs.
“Mexico’s passive cooperation in allowing this mass incursion constitutes an emergency and extraordinary threat to the national security and economy of the United States,” the statement said. It went on to say that Trump would address the “emergency” by invoking “authorities granted” to him under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Others have pushed back against this. Usually, it is the authority of Congress, and not the president, to raise taxes and tariffs. However, the president can gain the power to raise tariffs by declaring that certain circumstances amount to threats to national security.
To this point, Grassley criticized Trump’s efforts as a “misuse of presidential tariff authority,” that is “counter to congressional intent.”
“Trade policy and border security are separate issues,” Grassley added.
Others still have expressed concerns about the economic impacts of the new tariffs. While Trump claims the tariffs are a punishment for Mexico, many economists argue that the costs will largely be the burden of U.S. businesses and consumers.
This is because tariffs are paid by companies that import products and when U.S. businesses are required to pay the import penalties, that extra cost is often passed along to consumers.
According to the U.S. trade representative’s office, the U.S. imported an estimated total of $346.5 billion of Mexican goods last year, making Mexico the second-largest supplier of goods to the U.S. in 2018.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The Washington Post) (Fox News)
New York City Moves to Ban Cashless Businesses
- New York City’s Council passed a bill on Thursday that prohibits businesses from going cashless.
- Supporters argue this approach discriminates against low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts.
- Meanwhile, opponents of the cashless ban argue it is more convenient for workers to only deal with digital transactions.
- If New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio approves the bill, businesses will face a fine for refusing to accept cash as payment.
- San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved cashless bans in businesses last year.
Cashless Ban Approved by City Council
New York City’s Council approved a bill on Thursday that bans businesses from going cashless.
The measure was almost unanimously passed and is an effort to decrease discrimination of low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts or access to credit.
Councilmember Ritchie Torres was the bill’s lead sponsor.
“We in the City Council have real concerns that an increasingly cashless marketplace could have a real-world discriminatory effect on low-income communities, especially communities of color, that lack access to credit and debit,” Torres said at a press conference right before the bill was passed.
Just over 11% of households in New York — about 354,000 — do not have a bank account, according to a 2019 report by New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. An additional 21.8% of households are underbanked, meaning they have a bank account but use alternative financial methods for some needs.
Torres also noted that even those who do have access to bank accounts might still prefer cash because of its familiarity and its nature of allowing more privacy.
“Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment,” Torres said.
If the bill is approved by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, restaurants, stores, and other retail outlets will be required to accept cash as payment. If any businesses do refuse hard currency, they will be subject to a fine of $1,000 and $1,500 for each following offense.
Businesses will have the option of adopting cash conversion machines as long as the machines do not charge any extra fees. In the case that one of these machines is not working, the business must directly accept cash.
A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told The New York Times on Wednesday that he supported “the intent” of the bill, but still planned to go over it.
Cashless Ban Movement
New York City is the latest to pass legislation prohibiting businesses from refusing cash. In 2019, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved these bans for similar reasons.
While many are in favor of cashless bans, the idea has received pushback from others. Business owners have argued the method is more convenient for their workers. Leo Kremer, co-founder of the Dos Toros Taqueria chain that runs through New York City, has previously expressed this take.
“We are only interested in being cashless because it allows us to make our restaurant more seamless,” Kremer said at a hearing on the bill in February.
Kalman Yeger, a councilman from Brooklyn, thought those who voted for the bill were “overreaching.”
“We are inserting ourselves in the business of business in a way that we don’t have the right to,” Yeger told The New York Times.
See what others are saying: (ABC) (The New York Times) (Guardian)
U.S. Announces New Visa Rule Targeting “Birth Tourism”
- The Department of State unveiled a new rule aiming to stop pregnant women from coming to the U.S. to give birth so their children get American citizenship.
- The rule states that this practice — commonly referred to as “birth tourism” — “poses risks to national security.”
- The new regulation allows consular officers to deny visas to visitors if they believe they’re traveling to the U.S. for this purpose.
- It also requires those traveling to the U.S. for medical purposes to prove to consular officers that they can pay for the treatment they seek.
- The changes will go into effect as of Friday, Jan. 24.
Crackdown on Birth Tourism
The U.S. Department of State announced on Thursday plans to stop pregnant women from entering the country to give birth so their children are granted American citizenship, a practice commonly referred to as “birth tourism.”
Under the new rule, consular officers can deny visas to visitors if they believe their travel to the country is primarily for this purpose.
“The Department considers birth tourism an inappropriate basis for the issuance of temporary visitor visas,” the rule states.
The visas that this new regulation covers are those categorized as “B nonimmigrant visas,” issued for pleasure, medical purposes, or to visit friends or family.
“This rule reflects a better policy, as birth tourism poses risks to national security,” the Department of State said in the document. “The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes.”
By the law of the 14th Amendment, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
President Donald Trump has spoken out about his disapproval of this policy before. In the past, he has called it a “magnet for illegal immigration,” and last August he expressed his wish to remove it.
The State Department’s new rule will officially take effect on Friday, Jan. 24. It will only affect those from countries who need a visa to visit the United States.
In addition to cracking down on birth tourism, the State Department’s new rule also tightens qualifications for those seeking medical treatment in the U.S.
It requires that those seeking a nonimmigrant visa for this reason “must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the consular officer,” their ability to pay for their sought-after medical services, as well as proof that a medical practitioner has already agreed to help.
Reactions to the New Rule
After the Department of State’s new rule was made public, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham gave it her nod of approval.
“It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism,” Grisham said in a statement. “The integrity of American citizenship must be protected.”
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tweeted a link to The New York Times article on the story and added a simple word of support: “Good.”
Others, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, were not happy about the change.
“This administration is now targeting pregnant. women.” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “When you single out the most vulnerable, the cruelty is the point.”
Supreme Court Hears Landmark Case Regarding Scholarships for Religious Schools
- The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a potential landmark case that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution says they can’t.
- The case involves a Montana program that was ended after the state realized it was unintentionally being used to aid religious schools using taxpayer money.
- Opponents argue that the provision, which prohibits public funds from going to religious organizations, is rooted in religious discrimination.
Montana Sparks Lawsuit After Ending Scholarship Program
The Supreme Court of the United States began hearing Wednesday what could potentially be a landmark case concerning the separation of church and state for schools.
Specifically, the Court is considering a case out of Montana that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution prohibits such a move.
The situation that now sits upon SCOTUS’s doorstep began in 2015 when the Montana state legislature created a tax-credit program for people wanting to donate to a scholarship fund.
That program allowed people to donate dollar-for-dollar tax credits up to $150.
An organization named Big Sky then capitalized on the program and created a fund to help parents wanting to send their children to private schools; however, there was a catch: 12 of the 13 schools that Big Sky sent money to were religious. In fact, about 70% of private schools in the state are religious schools.
Those donations directly conflict with Montana’s state constitution, which says the state cannot set aside public money for “…any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”
Such a law is known as a “no-aid” provision.
Montana later decided to cut the program before eventually being sued on the basis of religious discrimination. One attorney argued that the only reason Montana shut down the program was because it included religious schools. That attorney also argued that the U.S. Constitution mandates equal protection under the law. In other words, Montana must apply the tax-credit program equally between private schools, both religious and nonreligious.
“Once you have these programs, you have to treat families going to religious schools equal to families going to nonreligious schools,” that attorney, Erica Smith, told NPR.
The case’s lead plaintiff—Kendra Espinoza— had also been vocal about her need for such a program.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Espinoza said not only did she have to pick up extra jobs but she also “pretty much sold everything in my house that wasn’t tied down” just to afford to send her two daughters to a religious private school. In addition to that, her two daughters took on jobs mowing lawns and cleaning offices to raise money.
Espinoza’s accounts are a far cry from the common stereotype that only rich people send their children to private schools, with Espinoza even directly saying that her family needs assistance to be able to afford private school.
“Baby” Blaine Amendments
While Montana didn’t introduce its tax-credit program until 2015, Espinoza’s case is also rooted in law that dates back to the 1800s.
In 1875, a politician by the name James G. Blaine introduced a similar “no-aid” amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That ended up failing, but different versions of it were adopted in most states, with Montana passing theirs in 1889.
Most historians have referred to the original proposed amendment as the “Blaine Amendment,” with the later ones being dubbed “baby” Blaine Amendments. Historians also agree that such amendments were only adopted in a bigoted retaliation to the mass immigration of Catholics into the U.S.
Thus, since the law was borne of bigotry against Catholics, Espinoza and her lawyers argued that it violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against religion.
On the other hand, the state of Montana disputed the discrimination claim, pointing out that its “no-aid” provision was revised and rewritten in 1972.
The state even had all but one of the surviving delegates at that 1972 convention submit a brief discussing how the revised Constitution was debated. According to NPR, one delegate even says that a number of the delegates were also ministers, with many of them speaking “very ardently in favor of public funds not going to religious education.”
That delegate, Mae Nan Ellingson, also argued that the state passed the “no-aid” provision to “protect religious liberty,” saying the state feared that if religious organizations were included, someone in the future might try to attach conditions to the aid.
The case eventually made its way to the Montana Supreme Court, where the Court ruled the state had not violated religious protections granted by the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up the Case
That decision, however, was then appealed to the SCOTUS, which began hearing arguments Wednesday.
In its brief, Montana continued to defend its no-aid provision, saying, “The No-Aid Clause does not prohibit any religious practice. Nor does it authorize any discriminatory benefits program. It simply says that Montana will not financially aid religious schools.”
On Espinoza’s side, the Trump Administration and Education Secretary Betsy Devos have backed her. The move is not an unexpected one for Devos, who attended private school herself and later sent her kids to private schools. Devos is also a heavy advocate of “faith-based education.”
With this case now reaching SCOTUS, any decision could have far-reaching effects. Including Montana, 38 states have no-aid provisions.
If Montana wins, its tax-credit program would remain shut down. It would then continue to be able to keep public money away from religious schools, but religious schools would still be able to receive federal funds.
However, if the state loses, religious schools across the country—regardless of previous state law—might be able to access scholarship funds paid for by taxes.
Currently, the latter decision appears to be the more likely outcome. In recent years, the Court has become more conservative on church vs. state issues. In 2017, it decided that Missouri couldn’t ban a church school for applying for a state grant that fixes up playgrounds. Since then, the court has only grown more conservative, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the bench.