How did we get to Tariffs?
Currently, immigrants from all over the world make their way to Mexico on journeys intended to end in the United States (or Canada). This includes asylum seekers from not only South America, but also Africa, Asia, and Europe.
The administration's immigration policy now limits the number of asylum cases that may be claimed daily (a system called 'metering'). As a result, migrants are required to wait in Mexico until their numbers for initial interviews are called for asylum in the United States. Those wait times are several months and growing. Even after the initial hearing, new Migrant Protection Protocols require most of those asylum seekers to continue wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings - another period that potentially spans years. (These immigration polices were challenged in Court, on April 8 a federal federal judge in California temporarily blocked the program. A few weeks later, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed,
ing the Trump immigration policies to continue.) As a consequence, many will skirt the legal process, attempting to cross the border between checkpoints on their own, or by hiring 'coyotes' to guide them across the desert spaces.
In early 2019, the federal budget was delayed months in a dispute between the President and the Democratic Congress over whether a border wall should be funded. Democrats criticized the President's assertions that the border faced any kind of crisis situation - i.e., "national emergency". In recent months, however, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has indeed faced massive and increasingly overwhelming numbers of migrants crossing the southern border illegally. See, prior Customs' Commissioner, Kevin K. McAleenan's
report on the situation
in March, 2019.
In further reaction, the Trump administration has pivoted from simple threats to close the U.S.-Mexico border, to the current threats of imposing a tariff slightly. In addition, the Administration is reportedly considering a ban on asylum for immigrants who cross a third-country to get to the United States, and also an introduction of possibly quicker "merit-based" evaluation system.
All this is developing as the President simultaneously seeks fast-track authority over the new USMCA free trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada (which would replace the NAFTA). While the Democratic House may choose to sideline the ratification process (House Speaker Pelosi has already conditioned passage of the USMCA on the renegotiation of at least 4 major areas), it's clear that the long-term strategy of the Administration is to position China trade, immigration, and the USMCA as major issues in the coming 2020 Presidential re-election campaign.