Donald Trump would try to force Mexico to pay for a border wall by targeting billions of dollars in remittances sent by immigrants living in the U.S., according to a memo released by his campaign Tuesday.
The memo outlines in new detail how Trump would try to compel Mexico to pay for the 1,000-mile wall he's promised to build along the Southern border if he becomes president.
In his proposal, Trump threatened to change a rule under the USA Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law, to cut off a portion of the funds sent to Mexico through money transfers known as remittances. His plan would also bar non-Americans from wiring money outside of the U.S. unless they can provide documentation establishing their legal status in the country.
“I don’t think it’s feasible. I think it’s silly and ridiculous,” said Aldo Gonzalez, immigration services coordinator at LUCHA AZ. “Aside from hurting all the families, it’s also going to hurt all those companies that do those transactions."
Immigrants’ rights activists say this plan would hurt families who depend on the money to survive.
“My dad would come here in work in the fields in Arizona, California, and he would send money to our family, and that’s how my mom and I would survive," Gonzalez said.
Trump said he would withdraw the threat if Mexico makes a one-time payment to finance the wall.
"It's an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year," the memo reads.
Former Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer shared her support for Trump's plan on CNN Tuesday.
“The wall is a good idea. Secure our borders and we can get beyond this, and then we can deal with the other issues that have come because of this," Brewer told CNN.
Trump’s critics include U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who tweeted on Tuesday, “Yet another unserious proposal from an unserious candidate," and President Barack Obama.
"Good luck with that," Obama said Tuesday in response to questions about Trump's proposal. He warned of the ramifications such a plan would have on the Mexican economy which, in turn, would drive more immigrants to cross the border in search of jobs.
"People expect the president of the United States and the elected officials in this country to treat these problems seriously, to put forward policies that have been examined, analyzed are effective, where unintended consequences are taken into account," Obama said. "They don't expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House. We can't afford that."
The billionaire businessman has estimated his proposed wall would cost between $10 billion and $12 billion, and has argued that it would protect the country from illegal border crossings as well as halting drug shipment. Mexico's President Enrique Pe±a Nieto has said his country will not pay for any such wall.
The U.S. is home to about 12 million Mexicans, some living here illegally, according to various research organizations that monitor trends in immigration. They and other migrants use money transfer agents or banks to send money home, often with the objective of supporting their families.
The Mexican central bank reported that money sent home by Mexicans overseas hit nearly $24.8 billion last year, overtaking oil revenues for the first time as a source of foreign income. Cutting off those transfers would therefore represent a significant blow to the Mexican economy.
The memo also lists other potential areas for leverage, including threats of trade tariffs, cancelling visas -- including targeting "business and tourist visas for important people in the Mexican economy" -- and increasing visa fees, including includes fees on border crossing cards.
The release of the memo was first reported by the Washington Post early Tuesday, the same day as the Wisconsin primary. Trump has been trailing rival Ted Cruz in the state in some recent opinion surveys.
This is not the first time that Trump has spelled out options for pressuring Mexico into paying for his signature policy proposal.
In an immigration overhaul plan released in August, Trump's campaign suggested a number of options for compelling Mexico to pay for the wall. Those included impounding "all remittance payments derived from illegal wages," increasing fees on temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats -- "and if necessary cancel them" -- increasing fees on border crossing cards, increasing fees on NAFTA worker visas from Mexico, and increasing fees at ports of entry between the two countries.
"Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options," the immigration paper stated.
Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to questions, including whether he still envisions impounding any money. It is also unclear whether Trump would seek any input from Congress. He and other Republicans have long criticized Obama for relying too heavily on executive orders to ram through his agenda.
Under the Patriot Act, a government-issued identification is already required for routine money transfers in the United States. For high-dollar transactions additional documentation or identification can be required.
According to Matt Chandler, a former deputy chief of staff at the Homeland Security Department, financial institutions must know their customers and are required to routinely share information with the government to ensure that their banking services aren't being used to launder money or fund terrorism.
Trump's wall is his signature policy proposal -- and mere mention of the word elicits booming cheers and applause at his rallies, where supporters sometimes dress in wall shirts and costumes. Trump often leads call-and-response sessions where he asks his audience who will pay for the wall.
"Mexico!" they thunder in response.