How DACA and the NAFTA Trade Deal With Mexico Are Intertwined

April 2, 2018, 5:49 PM UTC

President Donald Trump had an all-caps Easter.

“NO MORE DACA DEAL!” the president tweeted on Sunday just minutes after wishing Americans a “HAPPY EASTER!”

He went on to call once again for a border wall and claimed that people are coming into the U.S. from Mexico in order to “take advantage” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Immigrants program.

This assertion by the president continues his strategy of wrapping the argument for tougher immigration laws into his nationalist trade policies, but it’s not the way the DACA program functions.

Here’s how DACA and the immigration debate relate to the renegotiation of NAFTA and the U.S. trade relationship with Mexico.

What’s happening with NAFTA

The seventh round of NAFTA negotiations concluded on Mar. 5 in Mexico City. While officials from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada made strides in establishing transparency and regulatory best practices, disagreements about auto manufacturing rules continue to keep progress slow.

The talks, which seemed to experts the best chance for the three nations to come to an agreement on trade before election campaigns heat up, were disrupted by tweets from Trump about steel and aluminum tariffs.

“It’s easy to imagine [negotiations] continuing through the end of this year,” Jacob P. Meltzer from the Brookings Institute told Fortune.

Trump has long been a critic of NAFTA, calling it “the worst trade deal in history.” He has repeatedly threatened to pull out, claiming that an end to the trade agreement could be the “best deal” for the U.S.

While the countries accounted for more than $1.13 trillion in American trade in 2017, the U.S. does have a trade deficit of more than $71 billion with Mexico and more than $17 billion with Canada.

Fourteen million American jobs depend on our trade with Mexico and Canada, though, and about 1.8 million of those could be at stake if NAFTA ends, according to the Business Roundtable.

NAFTA and immigration

There were about 11.6 million Mexican immigrants living in the United States in 2016, according to the American Community Survey, an ongoing survey of a sample of American households conducted by the Census Bureau.

Mexicans accounted for 26% of all U.S. immigrants, down from the peak of 30% in 2000.

Immigration to the U.S. from Mexico began to increase in 1980. As expected, the number of people immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico rose after NAFTA went into effect in January 1994, but it happened longer than experts predicted.

“I thought that peak migration would have been in the late ’90s, and predicted that it would start falling after 2000. In fact, Mexico-U.S. migration was more like a 20-year hump, as opposed to a 10-year hump,” Phillip Martin, a professor at UC Davis who studies migration, told NPR in 2013.

Recently, the flow of immigrants from Mexico has slowed and the share of total immigrants from the country has dropped. Some people have even been leaving the U.S. for jobs in Mexico, taking the American-born members of their family with them.

Where DACA fits in

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which expired on Mar. 5 after Trump decided not to extend in September, faces continuing uncertainty as lawmakers use it as a political tool.

The federal government shut down in January over an immigration deal that did not include a solution for DACA recipients.

Following a Fox News segment on Sunday about “caravans” of Central Americans entering the U.S., the president called on Republicans in Congress to take aggressive action on policies, rather than cooperating with Democrats to reach an agreement about the DACA program.

Nearly 700,000 people were enrolled in the DACA program as of January 2018, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank that tracks the movement of people across the globe.

Only individuals in the U.S. who are older than 15, have lived in America continuously since June 15, 2007, were under the age of 16 when they entered the country, have a clean criminal record and a high school education are able to opt into the program.

About 1.3 million people in the U.S. are eligible to apply for DACA protections this year, according to the MPI, though the program only has a 52% participation rate among those who qualify.

Children of immigrants from Mexico accounted for almost 80% of recipients, according to U.S. Citizenship and Information Services data from September of last year.

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