What Mr. Trump Said
“When — during the campaign, I would say, “Mexico is going to pay for it.” Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check. I said, “They’re going to pay for it.” They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made, called the United States, Mexico, and Canada USMCA deal.”
Though he is often vague about how Mexico would foot the bill, Mr. Trump has offered occasional specifics, including compelling Mexico to make a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion.
Before he officially declared his candidacy, Mr. Trump proposed to “deduct costs from Mexican foreign aid” in an April 2015 Twitter post.
As early as August 2015, his campaign website stated: “Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards — of which we issue about 1 million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all NAFTA worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico [Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options].”
Mr. Trump then suggested, confusingly, that he would pressure Mexico to pay through trade in a February 2016 town hall-style meeting: “All I have to do is start playing with that trade deficit, and believe me, they’re going to pay for the wall.”
In a March 2016 memo, Mr. Trump outlined that argument in more detail and said, “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.” Otherwise, he said, the United States would impose tariffs, cancel visas and raise visa fees.
Days before he took office in January 2017, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that “any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!” He repeated this suggestion about “reimbursement” in an August 2017 news conference.
Lately, Mr. Trump has argued that Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall through the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, an updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But that claim is baseless. Nothing in the deal compels Mexico to pay for the wall, and it has yet to be ratified by Congress. Any reduction in the trade deficit would not necessarily produce an increase in government revenues that could go directly or indirectly toward paying for the wall. Additionally, any potential increase in government revenue generated by increased economic activity from the deal would come from American taxpayers, not Mexico.