New York Times
By Linda Qiu
June 29, 2017
Absent a victory on health care, President Trump has looked to the southern border to highlight recent accomplishments, talking tough about expelling gang members with Salvadoran roots and tweeting about a trade deal with Mexico. Here’s an assessment.
He falsely boasted of deporting half of a gang’s membership.
Publicly available evidence does not support Mr. Trump’s claim on Wednesday that “we’re pretty much at the 50 percent mark” in getting rid of Mara Salvatrucha, the violent gang known as MS-13, within the first five months of his administration.
The White House did not respond to multiple requests for clarification. Previously, the White House has pointed The Washington Post to the arrests of around 7,000 MS-13 members since the inception of Operation Community Shield, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiative targeting gangs. But Mr. Trump cannot reasonably take credit for this number, because the initiative began in 2005.
ICE officials testified before Congress last week that the agency had made 602 criminal arrests of MS-13 members, resulting in 153 convictions, and 170 immigration arrests from October 1, 2015, to June 4, 2017. Most of that period also predates Mr. Trump’s presidency, and it is unclear how many of those people are United States citizens, who cannot be deported.
Yet even assuming that all 772 members were deported or otherwise counted as removed during the Trump administration, they still would not amount to half of the gang. A Justice Department estimate in April puts the gang’s membership at about 10,000 in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia.
Over all, ICE removed almost 38,000 people in the first two full months of Mr. Trump’s presidency, about the same as the number removed in February and March 2016. Of the 240,000 people removed in all of the last fiscal year, about 2,000 were suspected or confirmed gang members, according to ICE.
Mr. Trump invokes MS-13 often, once falsely blaming President Barack Obama for its presence in the United States. The gang was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by immigrants fleeing civil war in El Salvador, and gained notoriety for brutal violence in the 1990s.
Legislation that expanded and expedited the deportation of criminals in 1996 contributed to the gang’s rise in Central America. Its growth was also facilitated by years of the United States government’s misunderstanding migration patterns and neglecting to consider the repercussions of deporting convicts without a coherent strategy and strong cooperation with Central American law enforcement, said Steve Dudley, a director of InSight Crime, a foundation that studies organized crime in the Americas.
“The original sin starts with the idea that foreign policy doesn’t matter at home,” Mr. Dudley said. “You can’t export this problem.”
Over all, several studies have shown, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.
He wrongly said the United States and Mexico had “no deal” on sugar for many years.
The two countries are finalizing a deal that suspends punitive tariffs against Mexico for dumping refined sugar into the United States market. Mr. Trump overreaches when he says the deal is unprecedented.
His claim is “partly inaccurate,” said Daniel Pearson, who was chairman of the United States International Trade Commission under President George W. Bush. “Prior to 2008 and after 2014, it was a very tightly controlled market.”
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico was given free access to the United States sugar market beginning in 2008 and exports soared, leading to complaints from American growers and prompting the Commerce Department to impose anti-dumping duties in 2014. In exchange for a suspension of the duties, Mexico agreed in December 2014 to limit its exports and set a minimum price.
The Trump administration’s new deal, which the president characterized as a “very good one for both Mexico and the U.S.,” strengthens protections for American producers by reducing the amount of refined sugar Mexico can export and changing the standards for what can be labeled refined sugar.
The deal is certainly sweet for American and Mexican sugar growers, and helps create a more constructive atmosphere for Nafta negotiations, Mr. Pearson said. “But who loses?” he said. “All of the sugar consuming manufacturers, the bakers, the confectioners and we consumers lose.”
Aside from the specific issue of refined sugar imports, there is another recent significant deal the United States and Mexico agreed to: the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Mr. Trump abandoned.
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