Trump Would Force Mexico to Pay for Border Wall by Blocking Remittances

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 4, ahead of the presidential primary. Jim Young/Reuters

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Donald Trump proposed blocking money transfers from illegal immigrants to Mexico until that country agrees to pay for a wall along the U.S. border, an incendiary plan that emerged on Tuesday as the Republican front-runner faces likely defeat in Wisconsin's presidential primary.

Trump's campaign said in a memo that if elected to the White House in November, he would use a U.S. anti-terrorism law to cut off remittances made by illegal immigrants, unless Mexico made a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion for the wall.

The Trump plan cited $24 billion a year in remittances to Mexico from its citizens in the United States, most of whom it said were there illegally. It proposed requiring Mexicans to prove they are in the United States legally before they can wire money outside the country.

Trump released his plan on Tuesday morning as polls opened in Wisconsin, where U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas appears poised for victory and is presenting himself as a uniter for Republican voters despite a Senate tenure marked by bitter feuds and uncompromising stances.

With Ohio Governor John Kasich running a distant third, Cruz is trying to make the case he is the only Republican candidate who can beat Trump to become the party's nominee in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

After a week of headlines focused on his missteps and his lag in Wisconsin polls, Trump turned to illegal immigration as a cornerstone of his campaign that is popular with his supporters. The New York billionaire has drawn strong criticism for his harsh rhetoric on Muslims, women and immigration, including his references to some Mexican immigrants as criminals.

He said on Tuesday he was "absolutely, 100 percent" behind the wall plan. Talking to reporters as he shook hands with patrons at a George Webb diner in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Trump said the $10 billion cost of the wall would be a fraction of the $58 billion annual trade deficit between the United States and Mexico.

"It's self explanatory. The wall is a fraction of the kind of money in many different ways that Mexico takes in from the United States," Trump said. "If I run it, there won't be a deficit."

Cruz meanwhile sought to stress the importance of a vote that opinion polls show he is likely to win.

"The entire country is looking to Wisconsin," he said on Monday. "What we are seeing in Wisconsin is the unity of the Republican Party manifested."

Playing a party uniter is an unlikely role for Cruz, who forced the U.S. government to shut down for six days in 2013 in a budget fight with Democratic President Barack Obama. Republicans ended up being blamed for the shutdown and Cruz's relationship with Senate Republicans leaders has been stormy.

"Everybody hates Cruz," Trump regularly says at his rallies.

But enmity toward Trump among many in the party establishment is such that Cruz can now count five of his former rivals for the presidential nomination among his backers, including U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said earlier this year that the choice between Trump and Cruz "is like being shot or poisoned."

In the Democratic race, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has a slender lead in opinion polls in Wisconsin over front-runner Hillary Clinton and is trying to add to his momentum after winning five of the last six contests. He still faces a tough task in defeating the favored Clinton for the nomination.

'Fevered Pipe Dream'

Cruz told reporters that only he and Trump had the ability to earn the 1,237 delegates from the primary contests necessary to win the nomination outright.

If no candidate reached that number, Republicans' choices at a contested nominating convention in July would be limited to him and Trump, because Kasich had not won the minimum eight states to get on the convention ballot, Cruz said.

Cruz also rejected talk that establishment Republicans might seek to nominate a new face at the convention, calling it a "fevered pipe dream of Washington that at the convention they will parachute in some white knight."

"It ain't going to happen. If it did, the people would quite rightly revolt," said Cruz.

While Cruz may carry the day in Wisconsin, the road to the nomination does not get any easier for him. The next states to vote, including New York on April 19 and five Northeastern states on April 26, are more Trump-friendly territory.

Trump leads with 737 delegates and Cruz has 475, according to an Associated Press count. Kasich, with 143 delegates, has no chance to gather enough delegates to win on the first ballot but has refused to end his candidacy.