Reason Roundup

Trump Wants $5 Billion for a Border Wall. Here Are Some Better Alternatives: Reason Roundup

Plus: Postmodern marketplaces or fraud? And the Reason webathon continues!



Migrants, Mexico, and Medicare. In an interview with Jake Sherman, President Donald Trump insisted that nothing less than a $5 billion budget for his border wall will do. "Politically speaking," the wall "is a total winner," said Trump. "The $5 billion is a MINIMUM — he wants more for security," Sherman tweeted Wednesday morning. "5b is just for the wall."

Instead of spending billions on a wall or summoning more troops to the border, Reihan Salam offers "an unexpected solution to the migrant crisis" in his latest at The Atlantic, which ends with a proposal to let U.S. retirees use their Medicare benefits for health care in Mexico. It starts with Salam offering one theory as to why Central American migration has picked up in recent years, in addition to increasing levels of violence in certain counties: "the surge in asylum claims has led to a severe backlog," which has in turn led to even more asylum claims.

Actually getting asylum status in the U.S. is hard, but getting an application accepted is (once you get to a U.S. border and are actually granted a chance to apply) pretty easy. And because it takes so long for our government to process asylum claims, many who apply are released on bond and granted the ability to live and work in the United States for months or years before their asylum claim is accepted or rejected.

"Though it is undoubtedly true that high levels of violent crime have been pushing people out of the Northern Triangle, even as homicide rates have declined in recent years, the pull of family ties and economic opportunity is at least as powerful a force," suggests Salam.

Drawing on World Bank data, the Pew Research Center found that remittances from migrant workers represented 17 percent of GDP in El Salvador, 11 percent in Guatemala, and 18 percent in Honduras as of 2016, numbers that have likely increased in the intervening years. Yet as the anthropologist David Stoll has observed, it is important to emphasize that remittances do not flow evenly. Some households in the Northern Triangle have loved ones living and working in the U.S., while others do not, and the gulf between them stimulates further migration as have-not families seek to join the ranks of the haves by sending one of their own abroad. … Over the course of several years, entire social networks can uproot themselves, and those seeking a decent life at home find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

One way to mitigate the probem would be for asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they wait out claim processing, a proposal that Mexican's government seems amenable to. From Salam:

The Remain in Mexico plan would change this dynamic. Those asylum seekers who pass the credible-fear test would be expected to remain in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated. Exceptions would be made for those who can establish that they have a reasonable fear of temporarily residing in Mexico, but that would be a higher bar to clear. In practice, one of the main reasons Central American migrants prefer to live in the U.S. over Mexico is that, simply put, wages are higher north of the border, which is not in itself grounds for asylum. López Obrador has often expressed a desire to aid Central American migrants, and that has been echoed by Mexican officials who've pointed to job openings in the maquiladoras of Tijuana and other growing cities that could be filled by asylum seekers.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Sánchez Cordero underscored that "we want [Central American migrants] to be included in society, that they integrate into society, that they accept the offer of employment that we are giving them." Elsewhere, she has discussed granting 1 million work visas to Central American migrants, in keeping with López Obrador's concept of employing said newcomers in his efforts to revitalize southern Mexico. Though Remain in Mexico would not be a "safe third-country agreement," which would essentially bar migrants passing through Mexico from applying for asylum in the U.S., it has the potential to bring an end to the periodic border crises that have roiled the country since the summer of 2014.

But Trump would need to give Mexico something in return, writes Salam. One thing that would benefit both countries would be if U.S. retirees could use their Medicare benefits in Mexico:

Needless to say, such a proposal would surely be met with ferocious resistance from U.S. medical providers who fear the prospect of foreign competition, and their political allies would surely denounce it as part of a larger plot to export aging Americans en masse. But U.S. retirees are growing more diverse, and a large and growing number of them have origins in Mexico. Many of them would welcome the opportunity to reconnect with their ancestral homeland, provided that they wouldn't have to surrender the promise of high-quality medical care in their twilight years in the process.

Salam adds that "the benefits for Mexico would be immeasurable." Plus:

.. taken together, Remain in Mexico and Medicare-in-Mexico would bind the U.S. and Mexico in a mutually beneficial relationship around immigration. Mexico would help the U.S. exert greater control over migration flows, and in exchange, the U.S. would make a serious commitment to fostering economic opportunity for Mexicans and Central Americans closer to home, thereby helping to keep families and communities intact. The presence of large numbers of older Americans in the region, meanwhile, will give the U.S. an even greater stake in helping maintain its security and prosperity, which would be all to the good.

But Reason's Shikha Dalmia is skeptical. She tells me this morning that while Salam's Medicare proposal is interesting, "it can only play a very marginal role in propping up Mexico's economy."

Meanwhile, Salam "is seriously downplaying the role that social breakdown and escalating violence in the Northern Triangle has played in creating the migrant crisis," as well as the way "that America has played a major role in destablizing the region," she says, pointing to her recent article on the subject in The Week.

Dalmia also worries that the Trump administration would spend "gobs of taxpayer money" getting Mexico to go along with asylum seekers remaining there. Trump and his ilk worry about "welfare moochers," but this would be worse, creating "a net loss to America, whereas if [asylum seekers] were allowed to come and work here, they'd grow the economy and pay taxes."

However, she notes that Salam's "Medicare idea and admitting these migrants [are not] either/or. Both help the US and Mexico and migrants. Both should be pursued!"


Postmodern marketplaces or fraud? Read this New York Times tale of an online retail rabbit hole that leads to Newsweek scandal and a Bible college under investigation for fraud. Among many other interesting bits, it explains what's going on with weirdly expensive yet mundane Amazon products:

There was little pattern or theme to what these Amazon shops sold. They had everything from hemorrhoid cream to desk lamps, and there were varying levels of inventory….They were also strangely expensive. You might be hard pressed to imagine someone paying $42.66 for 6 ounces of Ulcer Ease Anesthetic Mouth Rinse, $52.00 for three boxes of Queasy Pops, or $127.09 for beige compression stockings in medium.1 But perhaps not having done their research, some people do."

Known as "dropshippers," they "are online sellers who don't keep any products in stock. Instead, they advertise a product and, if it is purchased, they buy the item from overseas and ship it directly to the customer." And there are layers and layers of them, "a kind of product version of clickbait." But is it all to a deeper end?

Trying to map the connections between all these entities opens a gaping wormhole. I couldn't get over the idea that a church might be behind a network of used business books, hair straighteners, and suspiciously priced compression stockings—sold on Amazon storefronts with names like GiGling EyE, ShopperDooperEU and DAMP store—all while running a once-venerable American news publication into the ground.


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• Yikes. From the Yale School of Management: "A new study suggests that white Americans who hold liberal socio-political views use language that makes them appear less competent in an effort to get along with racial minorities."

• Fox's new streaming station seems off to a good start:

• More on the #ThotAudit:

• Experiments in content and influence monetization.

• "By rejecting the new rules for Title IX investigations, the ACLU has come out as an opponent of due process rights on college campuses," writes (former Reason intern) Lindsay Marchello at The Federalist. "This position is blatantly contradictory to their core mission of protecting civil liberties."

• The president talks climate change: