TIJUANA, Mexico—Mexico reached out to the United States over the weekend, offering to assist with Hurricane Harvey, as it did in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, when it sent a convoy of soldiers to aid emergency relief efforts a week after the levees were breached.
But this extended hand—whether genuinely necessary or merely a gesture of solidarity—has gone officially unacknowledged.
Despite reports in Mexico that the proposed aid is on its way, it is not clear that the U.S. has accepted the offer at all. Mexico’s undersecretary of foreign affairs, Carlos Sada, told the BBC that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “immediately accepted”—but that was pending approval from President Donal Trump.
A spokesperson at the State Department clarified in an email, “If a need for assistance does arise, we will work with our partners, including Mexico, to determine the best way forward.” A spokesperson at Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs—unauthorized to speak on the record—said, “Texas hasn’t answered,” nor has the federal government.
“We still haven’t received any response,” she said. “We made an offer, so we’re just waiting for Texas to inform us if they need anything.
“We’ve been in communication but don’t have any sort of official answer,” she said, adding that Mexico has not made plans to provide assistance and won’t prepare to do so unless the U.S. formally requests it.
Given Trump’s ongoing and untimely attacks on Mexico, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the gesture ignored and the possibility of real assistance as well.
Mexico’s president has not offered any comments on Hurricane Harvey or Mexico’s offer to assist with relief efforts. But Mexican media has been quick to note the glaring irony of the situation.
A column in El Semanario on Monday, titled “Mexico Gives Ethics Lesson to Trump After Wall Threats,” opened with the most obvious analogy for the newly complicated bilateral relationship.
“Picture it,” the article begins. “Your neighbor has just threatened you and said he’ll force you to pay for a wall because he doesn’t want your family on his land. He’s in big trouble—one of the rooms in his home is flooding, and members of his family need help. What would you do?”
The ridiculous and distracting subject of the wall, to be clear, is one that still only a minority of Americans support, but it’s a subject Trump has invested his political capital into more deeply than perhaps any other. He announced his presidential bid back in June 2016—when he first did his “they are not our friend, believe me” and “some, I assume, are good people” routine—by opening with the divisive promise of a wall.
“Mark my words,” he said then, committing fully to a foolish folly. “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
The promise of this wall, cemented from the outset on a rickety premise—“they’re bringing drugs; they’re bringing crime; they’re rapists”—was rendered even more absurd earlier this month when the transcript of a phone call between Trump and Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto leaked, evidencing the disingenuous and weaselly nature of Trump’s border security promises.
In the conversation from January, the two leaders essentially agreed to disagree and remain publicly silent about who will inevitably fund the proposed wall, each noting sincerely that Trump’s statements on the issue have placed both in an non-negotiable political bind.
“You have a very big mark on our back, Mr. President, regarding who pays for the wall,” Peña Nieto noted during the call. “This is what I suggest, Mr. President—let us stop talking about the wall.”
“On the wall, you and I both have a political problem,” Trump acknowledged. “My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall.’ And your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language.
“You cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall,” Trump demanded. “I am just going to say that we are working it out.”
Peña Nieto insisted, “My position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”
“But you cannot say that to the press,” Trump complained. “The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”
It’s remarkable sleight of hand, really: tricking two countries’ peoples into demanding answers to the wrong question.
Odds are, if you want the wall built you don’t care who pays for it—even if that “who” is you.
But in the meantime, the atmosphere has been rendered so poisonous that common courtesy—and indeed common humanity—on the part of the Mexicans is impossible for Trump and politicians intimidated by his cult-like base to address.
Thus on Sunday, after the National Weather Service warned of impending “catastrophic, unprecedented, and life threatening flooding” in the fourth most populated city in the U.S., Houston, Mexico’s foreign affairs secretary Luis Videgaray tweeted, “We will provide all the help we can. Our full solidarity with the people of Texas,” following a phone call with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
But the Republican governor did not like, reply, retweet, or subtweet Videgaray, nor otherwise acknowledge the offer via social media.
As Harvey ravaged the Gulf of Mexico and Texas coast, Trump was stirring up his own storm on Twitter—promoting a book written by a campaign supporter, gawking and geeking out about the “HISTORIC rainfall” and “once in 500 year flood!” and tweeting that Mexico is “being very difficult” on NAFTA negotiations. (“May have to terminate?” he tweeted.)
Mexico, responded in a statement released by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday that it “will not negotiate NAFTA, nor any other aspect of the bilateral relationship, through social media or any other news platform.”
The Mexican government, it added, in a show of solidarity, “offered to provide help and cooperation to the U.S. government in order to deal with the impact of this natural disaster—as good neighbors should always do in trying times.”
Their Mexican administration’s stance remains unchanged: It is “a principle of national sovereignty and dignity” that Mexico “will not pay, under any circumstances, for a wall or physical barrier built on U.S. territory along the Mexican border.”
As for Trump’s recurring one-sided talk of drugs freely flowing across the border, Mexico reiterated that it—and the resulting flow of money and guns—is a shared problem that cannot be combatted by solely cutting off the supply and not addressing the U.S.’ insatiable demand.
But on Monday, during a joint press conference with President Sauli Niinistö of Finland, following a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump once again hammered on about the wall and those supposedly dangerous neighbors to the south.
The decision to pardon the Trump-campaigning Arizona sheriff who defied a court order to stop racially profiling Hispanics during immigration sweeps was clumsily announced but not very surprising. Trump applauded Joe Arpaio’s “strong on borders, strong on illegal immigration” stance, and said the controversial sheriff—“America’s toughest,” some call him—had simply “protected our borders.”
As at least half a dozen deaths were reported across Texas, and tens of thousands of Texans fled their homes, Trump spoke of the “drug scourge” from Mexico.
“Tremendous drugs,” he said, “are pouring into the United States at levels that nobody’s ever seen before.
“The wall will stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth so we need the wall. It’s imperative,” he said. “We may fund it through the U.S., but ultimately Mexico will pay for the wall.
“One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the wall,” Trump insisted, once more, on Monday—conceding however that “it may be through reimbursement.”
“We need the wall very badly. As you know, Mexico has a tremendous crime problem, tremendous. One of the number two or three in the world, and that’s another reason we need it,” he said. “With Mexico being one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other,” he tweeted on Sunday—as the hurricane ripped into Texas.
Fortunately, Americans showed truer values and priorities.
Harvey, according to Customs and Border Protection, may outperform Texas’ previously most disastrous hurricane on record—1961’s Carla—after more than 30 inches of rainfall between Thursday and Monday. But Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Texas stepped up to the task of embodying American values, rightfully prioritizing public safety over immigration control.
Arizona CBP’s Air and Marine Operations sent four Blackhawks from Tucson to Houston over the weekend to aid rescue efforts, airlifting flood victims stranded in or on their homes. CBP also deployed air crews and crew to San Angelo, Texas. On Tuesday, 50 Tucson CBP agents arrived in Texas to assist emergency efforts. More than two dozen more were sent on Monday from the Del Rio area of Texas to Houston. And 50 more arrived from the Rio Grande Valley to man an emergency operation center in Robstown, and assist agents stationed in Corpus Christi.
Before the hurricane made landfall, Houston CBP’s field director Judson W. Murdock II said the agency would “continue to carry out our border security mission,” while assisting hurricane-stricken areas of the state. But CBP’s routine, as for so many Texans this weekend, has been disrupted—surveillance equipment was stored in anticipation of the storm, horses were moved to inland facilities, CBP field offices mobilized to assist fellow CBP employees caught in the hurricane.
“As the Border Patrol remains committed to its primary mission of border security, we are dedicating first responders and assets to provide any assistance as requested through established protocols by our federal, state and local partners,” said agent Manuel Padilla.
A joint statement from CBP and ICE on Friday—after the governor declared a state of disaster in 30 Texas counties—noted measures to help guarantee the safety of immigrants already in custody at detention centers, and provided assurance to undocumented immigrants who could fear seeking potentially life-saving assistance. More than 8 percent of Houston’s metro area are undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks,” it read. But, the statement warned, “the laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”
More than a third of Houston is Hispanic. And Hispanic neighborhoods were among the hardest hit by the hurricane. Manchester, which is 90 percent Hispanic, was under 9 feet of water on Sunday evening—now down to 8.
CBP warned that Hurricane Harvey is a long-term event—the final damage will be severe and could take years to mend. Former FEMA director Michael Brown said on Monday that Harvey is shaping up to be “unequivocally” worse than Hurricane Katrina in terms of scope—though not yet lives. “This will be easily the most expensive natural disaster in American history,” he projected.
Such costs demand choices. And the project to sacrifice should be obvious. To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, “Mr. Trump, don’t build that wall.”