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And now during the shutdown, the White House is searching far and wide for potential pots of money it can tap as the president considers declaring the situation at the border a national emergency — a move that is sure to kick off a legal battle and inflame political tensions.
“The story keeps changing by the day — like everything,” said Cecilia Muñoz, a vice president at New America, a liberal think tank, who served as a White House domestic policy adviser under President Barack Obama. Of Trump’s original plan for funding the wall, she added: “They had no earthly idea how they would get Mexico to do that, so they came up with an idea to try to pass the laugh test, which they didn’t do.”
Trump and his aides have floated other ideas to pressure Mexico to pay — canceling visas or increasing fees for consular services for Mexicans, and taxing imported goods at 20 percent.
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By the spring of 2016, after he had emerged as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was under pressure to explain how he would make good on the promise.
In the two-page policy memo, the Trump campaign described using powers under the Patriot Act to compel U.S. financial institutions to block personal remittances to Mexico, which totaled more than $20 billion a year.
Such money is an important source of income for many families in Mexico and other Latin American countries, experts said, and gives those countries’ economies a boost. For example, Muñoz recalled that officials from El Salvador cautioned the Obama administration not to end temporary protected status for tens of thousands of Salvadoran nationals living in the United States because sending them home would cut off those funds and seriously disrupt El Salvador’s economy.
“My first reaction was, ‘That sounds counterproductive,’ ” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “Mexican migration [to the United States] is dropping in part because Mexican migrants are sending money home so more Mexicans can have a dignified life.”