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Ex-US trade rep to Trump: Tariffs cannot fix the root cause of illegal immigration from Mexico

Key Points
  • Placing tariffs on Mexico isn't going to solve the increased flow of migrants across the southern border, says former Ambassador Carla Hills.
  • "Tariffs are not going to fix the poverty in Central America nor the violence," says Hills, an architect of the original NAFTA.
  • President Trump is threatening a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports, starting Monday, unless Mexico takes steps to reduce illegal immigration.
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Tariffs won't fix illegal immigration: Expert

Former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills told CNBC on Wednesday that placing tariffs on Mexico isn't going to solve the increased flow of migrants across America's southern border.

Higher levels of poverty and violence have caused Central Americans to make the trek to the Mexican border in hopes of seeking asylum in the U.S., former Ambassador Hills said, calling on the Trump administration to address that problem.

"Tariffs are not going to fix the poverty in Central America nor the violence in Central America," Hills, who served under former President George H.W. Bush as an architect of the original NAFTA, told "Squawk on the Street. "

President Donald Trump announced last week that he would place a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports, starting June 10, if Mexico does not take action to reduce illegal immigration at the border. The tariffs would go up incrementally to as high as 25% in October if Mexico does not address Trump's demands.

This is an issue that the U.S. had been working on in the past, Hills said. "We have a plan but we're not carrying it out."

In 2016, former President Barack Obama's fiscal budget included $1 billion in new aid to Central America in an effort to ease the unaccompanied child migration crisis. But in March, the Trump administration cut aid to the Central American nations as thousands of their citizens continued to flee to the U.S. southern border.

"It's remarkable as the needs go up, the help goes down," Hills said, adding she doesn't see a connection between placing tariffs on Mexican imports and solving what Trump deemed a national emergency on immigration.

The only way to achieve anything is to have a "rational discussion about the causes for migration," Hills offered, saying she does not think the U.S. had laid out clear guidelines for what it wants Mexico to do.

Mexico's top diplomat is meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday in a last ditch effort to prevent the tariffs from taking effect as planned on Monday.

The White House was not immediately available to respond to CNBC's request for comment on Hills' remarks.

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Key Points
  • Sen. Gary Peters argues the Trump strategy does little to address the illegal flow of migrants, and it will only hurt workers in American states.
  • The Michigan Democrat says he's especially concerned about Detroit automakers that have major production facilities in Mexico.
  • GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio says President Trump should not follow through with his Mexico tariff threat.