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Closing the border: a goal shared by Nixon, Reagan, and Trump

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Several times the US president has threatened to close the border with Mexico

Closing the border: a goal shared by Nixon, Reagan, and TrumpDonald Trump's speech about his plans on the Mexican border seems necessary from time to time. We should recall that his campaign was based on the creation of the wall and, throughout his term, issues such as the control of immigrants and the complete closure of the border are increasingly common within his views on Mexico.

Leer en español: Cerrar la frontera: el objetivo de Nixon, Reagan y Trump

Thus, on March 29, President Trump again referred to this matter and through Twitter thread threatened to completely close the border, "if Mexico does not immediately stop all illegal immigration that enters the United States through our southern border." On that occasion, he stated that in the first week of April, the border would be closed completely. As expected, he did not close it, but argued that "at any moment he could do it ".

However, Trump is not the first president to threaten to close the border. In the past both Nixon and Reagan also affirmed it and, unlike Trump, they complied. What did they do then?

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Nixon's chaotic closure

In 1969, when Nixon began his presidency, he decided to find an excuse to "sow two powerful forces of resistance to the conservatives: blacks and anti-war activists," according to Timeline. He found the answer in the fight against drugs.

Thus, when he came to power he created a presidential Task Force related to different narcotics. In this way, Nixon planned a massive surprise attack on the Mexican border, which was called 'Operation Intercept'. What this plan left behind was brutal repression on the border, in addition to creating a diplomatic fiasco between the two nations. It is said that since that day relations between Mexico and the United States have changed forever.

The result was a collapsed border, for which thousands of Mexicans lost their jobs and there was a notable decrease in the economy of cities around the border. As if that were not enough, the objective of controlling and seizing drugs lost importance, because the real intention was for Mexico to yield to US petitions and for the latter to have total control.

When Mexico agreed to the requests to spray or eliminate marijuana plants, Nixon created another plan called 'Operation Cooperation', in which the two countries "collaborated in the design of a shared strategy to reduce the production of narcotics within Mexico and its movement across the border," according to the National Security Archive.

Although both 'operations' did not really help to combat the progressive increase in drug use, it did help Nixon demonstrate how qualified he was for the position. However, what the president really achieved was to divide the country, helping to continue with the racist and now xenophobic stereotypes, which were key to receiving the support of many social classes, all under the premise of fighting the war on drugs.

50 years later

The first thing that must be taken into account is that, according to several experts, what Nixon did was "a massive political error from all conceivable points of view", and that due to its decisions the conflict between the southern border of the United States was created.  Now Trump seems to continue with the threats and could also be on the verge of a blunder. But as incredible as it may seem, Nixon at least had an alibi that was the fight against drugs.

However, Trump does not have it and every day he seems more desperate for "doing something punitive and, having exhausted most of those options, closing the border may be the best trick left", according to Mother Jones. Trump, unlike Nixon, does not hide his intentions and what could happen, apart from economic instability, would be rows of cars and thousands of people stuck on the border, trying to enter the United States, as in 1969.

Reagan's border closure

Under the same argument, in 1985 President Reagan also decided to temporarily close the border because of the need to fight the war on drugs. The closure came two weeks after "DEA Agent Enrique" Kiki "Camarena was kidnapped by armed men during his mission in Guadalajara, Mexico," according to The Daily Caller.

This time the action was going to go under the name of "Operation Camarena", which was a way to intercept information about Camarena's whereabouts. According to the same media, Reagan's objective was to "put pressure on what he saw as a Mexican government that was holding back on its efforts to locate the missing DEA veteran and his kidnappers."

After the Mexican authorities did everything possible to find the DEA agent, the US government decided to use the border to force them to give results, so it closed nine strategic points.

While the border was opened days later, it did not only leave the economy affected but also damaged the diplomatic relations. In addition, the Mexicans did not understand why there was such an uproar if hundreds of their compatriots had been killed as a result of the war on drugs.

The truth is that in both cases the closure of the border resulted in failure, since the two countries are deeply dependent on the economy, culture, and society of each other. In addition, the closing of borders ends up being a bad strategy, since they affect the economy and foment resentment between the two countries. In the same way, it is not 100% guaranteed that with the closure immigration will disappear; it may decrease, but it would not stop.

LatinAmerican Post | Laura Viviana Guevara Muñoz

Translated from "Cerrar la frontera: el objetivo de Nixon, Reagan y Trump"

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