Barack Obama trashes Donald Trump's plan to force Mexico to pay for wall

US President Barack Obama answered a question about Presidential candidate Donald Trump's foreign policy proposals in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington DC, USA, on April 5, 2016.
US President Barack Obama answered a question about Presidential candidate Donald Trump's foreign policy proposals in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington DC, USA, on April 5, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday (April 5) dismissed as "half-baked" a reported plan by Donald Trump to force Mexico to pay for a giant wall along the southern US border.

The Republican frontrunner's promise to build the wall, in an effort to stop illegal immigration, and force Mexico to foot the estimated US$8 billion (S$10.8 billion) bill is a cornerstone of his under-fire campaign to win the US presidency.

In a memo that The Washington Post said the flamboyant New York tycoon handed over, the candidate said he would force Mexico's hand by threatening to cut off billions of dollars sent home by Mexican immigrants.

"This is another example of something that's not thought through and put forward for political consumption," Obama told a news conference in response.

"The notion that we're going to track every Western Union bit of money that's been sent to Mexico: Good luck with that," he said.

Remittances are one of the most important sources of income for Mexico along with oil and tourism.

In 2014, more than US$24 billion was wired into Mexico from overseas, including payments from immigrants not just in the United States but in other countries such as Britain and Canada, according to the World Bank.

The outgoing Democrat president said ending remittances, many of which come from legal immigrants sending money to their families, would be "impractical."

The policy was ill-conceived, he said, warning that if the Mexican economy collapsed as a result, more immigrants would flock to the United States to look for work.

People expect the US president and other elected officials to address serious problems with "policies that have been examined, analysed, that are effective," he said. "They don't expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House."

In the memo, Trump threatened to change a rule under the anti-terrorism Patriot Act that would cut off a portion of the funds sent to Mexico through money transfers, the Post reported.

The paper said the feasibility of Trump's plan was unclear both legally and politically, and that the idea could decimate the Mexican economy and set up an unprecedented showdown between the United States and a key diplomatic ally.

Trump's memo said the threat would be withdrawn if Mexico made "a one-time payment of US$5 to 10 billion" to pay for the wall, the newspaper added.

"It's an easy decision for Mexico," it quoted Trump as saying in the memo, which the Post said was written on campaign stationery.

Called "Compelling Mexico to Pay for the Wall," the document included other potential intimidation tactics such as increased trade tariffs, cancelling visas, and higher fees for border-crossing cards, the Post said.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Obama said Tuesday that foreign leaders were expressing concern about "some of the wackier suggestions" being made both by Trump and his closest Republican rival, evangelical conservative Ted Cruz.

"In some ways they are just as draconian when it comes to immigration," he said.

The Texas senator is leading Trump in the Republican contest for Tuesday's Wisconsin primary where a win for Cruz could bolster his chances of snatching the Republican nomination from the real estate mogul.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has made clear "there is no scenario" in which his country would pay for a wall. He has compared Trump's rhetoric to the rise of European dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.