Anti-Immigrant Sentiment Is Ugly – And Costly, As The Texas Governor Continues To Show
Texans are subsidizing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s political stunts, whether they want to or not. Texas has wasted billions in state (and possibly federal) funds on Abbott’s ineffective, wildly inhumane, and wildly expensive border operations. The combined total as nearly half of Texans struggled with paying high energy costs last year? $5.5 billion so far, according to reports.
ABBOTT’S LIKELY-UNLAWFUL OPERATION LONE STAR IS AS EXPENSIVE AS IT IS INEFFECTIVE
The vast majority of this figure – $4.5 billion and counting – has gone to fund Abbott’s cruel and likely illegal Operation Lone Star scheme, which has been in place for more than two years and has in part targeted Black and Latino migrants for arrest under the guise of state trespassing law. The reality on the ground? Sheer brutality. In just the past several weeks, revelations that Texas troopers were denying water to pregnant mothers and pushing children back into the Rio Grande have spurred outrage. Since then, two migrants have been found dead on or near the sawblade buoys installed by Texas in the Rio Grande.
Migrants arrested on supposed trespassing claims have also alleged that officers zip-tied their hands, forced them to climb 10-foot-fencing onto private property, and then detained them. Hundreds targeted under the scheme were also ordered for release after a court determined they were illegally held for weeks on end with no formal charges, in violation of state law. In a December 2022 ruling, a court further found “the policy of Operation Lone Star, as it now stands, has a discriminatory effect and is motivated by a discriminatory purpose.” So much for that “law and order” stuff espoused by Republicans.
Operation Lone Star is the priciest of Texas’ border operations, burning through $2.5 million dollars a week as of last year. While border apprehensions sharply rose after the Trump administration implemented the anti-asylum Title 42 policy in March 2020, Abbott didn’t begin the program until President Joe Biden took office. That’s no coincidence: Texas often launched immigration stunts “during periods when Democrats held the presidency or a majority in Congress,” ProPublica, The Marshall Project, and The Texas Tribune said last year.
The ploy hasn’t come cheap. In 2021, Texas Republicans increased border security funding “from $800 million for two years to $1.1 billion,” Bob Garrett, Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, told KERA last year. “Then they came back in the fall in a special session, and Abbott asked for $1.8 billion. Then, they came back for more this year.” Garrett said Texas used federal pandemic relief funds “to free up state discretionary dollars,” adding another billion to Operation Lone Star’s spending spree.
Operation Lone Star, Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s immigration deterrence policy isn’t working and has cost Texans over $4 billion since it began in 2021.
This is not going to update our immigration system. We need immigration reform. pic.twitter.com/sNyHptQCR7
— America's Voice (@AmericasVoice) August 9, 2023
This eyebrow-raising use of federal funds has since been under probe by the Treasury Department watchdog. Congressional lawmakers led by Texas’ Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar had urged the watchdog to investigate Abbott using federal funds like some personal ATM of hate, writing that he was diverting money from critical public sector resources. Abbott may have to return the money if the watchdog rules against him.
Despite the massive spending, Operation Lone Star’s efficacy is unclear. The Wall Street Journal reported that state officers have swept up U.S. citizens and carried out arrests that have nothing to do with immigration enforcement. In just one example detailed in a 2022 investigation by ProPublica, The Marshall Project, and The Texas Tribune, the arrest of a Midland man who got into a fight with an ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend after he called him a racist slur was inexplicably labeled an Operation Lone Star success story. Abbott may be patting himself on the back, but “the evidence doesn’t back him up,” ProPublica, The Marshall Project, and The Texas Tribune said.
Texas has also fought media requests for more information, and because funding is managed through the governor’s office, it’s much harder to track. “While the governor’s office argues that the agencies it funds have to report spending,” budget analyst Eva DeLuna Castro at the think-tank Every Texan “said some are not subject to such rules,” the report said.
ABBOTT DONORS SNATCH UP LUCRATIVE BORDER WALL CONTRACTS
Meanwhile, Abbott has also appointed himself the apparent successor to Trump’s racist and wasteful border wall, and has ordered the construction of border walls in the state. What began as a mnemonic device and developed into a racist chant almost eight years ago during Trump’s first campaign is now a driving “policy” idea from the GOP, with Texas doling out more than $800 million in contracts as of January. One contractor landed a nearly $140 million contract for just seven miles of barrier. The three brothers who own Sullivan Land Services Company are—shocker—Abbott mega donors to the tune of over $250,000.
All in all, Texas has awarded $830 million in contracts for just 30 miles of barrier as of January. If that seems expensive, that’s because it is. “Texas is going to pay $65+ million per mile of border wall?!” American Immigration Council Policy Director Aaron Reichlin-Melnick questioned in January. “That’s 2-3x more expensive than what [Customs and Border Protection] paid for most of Trump’s wall. Talk about a ripoff.” But why should Abbott care, when it’s not his money in the first place. All the tax-payer money he spends is a free transfer to his campaign, as far as Gov. Abbott is concerned.
None of that even includes the price of acquiring land in order to build. Unlike the federal government, Texas isn’t allowed to seize land, so it either has to be donated, or purchased. Vega Verde resident Mary Ann Ortiz told the Texas Observer in July that state officials were “kind of lowballing” her when they sought to buy her property. She declined, but still has fears that she’ll be hit economically anyway. “Who’s going to want to buy a house with a big border wall saying, ‘Okay, you belong to Mexico; you belong to [Ciudad] Acuña’?” she asked in the report.
Some of her neighbors have accepted the Abbott administration’s financial offers. “Since construction began this spring, the wall has grown closer to both sides of her property, and Ortiz fears it will just funnel traffic from across the border through her home,” the report continued. “She and others on Vega Verde worry that, eventually, they may be forced to take whatever the state offers.” The Texas Facilities Commission “paid $220,894 to owners of 17 parcels of land in Cameron and Val Verde counties, as of November, per the Comptroller database that logs government expenditures,” the Texas Observer reported last November.
That represents just a tiny percentage of hundreds of millions of dollars won by contractors, meaning that while private businesses and political mega donors are making enormous profits from building scant miles of wall, Texans are having to choose between unfair offers, or watching their property rapidly depreciate and then getting screwed anyway. It’s a bad deal for Mary Ann Ortiz. More evidence that Abbott is an even worse deal for Texas tax-payers and property owners.
ABBOTT’S BORDER POLICIES HAVE ALREADY BEEN PROVEN TO BE COSTLY FAILURES
But let’s not forget that Greg Abbott has already proven that his border policies are economic disasters. In clear retaliation for the Biden administration moving to end the anti-asylum Title 42 policy, Abbott last year implemented a short-lived policy that forced commercial vehicles to undergo redundant inspections. These completely unnecessary secondary inspections by state officials after truckers had already been cleared by federal officials at the border, left in its wake multi-mile long delays, rotting produce and more than $4 billion in losses.
“The biggest losses were to the manufacturing sector, which took about 50% of the hit, followed by retail trade, wholesale trade and financial activities,” The Dallas Morning News reported at the time. “Manufacturing and retail made up the bulk of the job losses. That doesn’t even account for the slowdown in shopping on the U.S. side of the border.”
Border businesses had last fall welcomed the easing of pandemic restrictions, which had severely hurt the region’s economy. But Abbott took up where the virus left off, and implemented a policy that quite literally produced nothing. Texas claimed that the policy was intended to apprehend migrants and interdict drugs, but the policy turned up neither. The Texas Tribune reported that state inspectors cited a couple of hundred drivers for minor infractions that included under-inflated tires and oil leaks. No migrants, or drugs, but plenty of frustrations from businesses, bipartisan lawmakers (Texas’ Republican agriculture commissioner slammed the policy as “political theater”), and international partners.
Following the backlash, Abbott ended the policy after just about a week. But when he was questioned about his policy’s economic damage, Gov. Abbott claimed the federal government was to blame for his misguided decision. The economic fallout continued, when Mexico decided to reroute a planned Mazatlán to Winnipeg railway that had a connection in Texas. But following the failed secondary inspections stunt, Mexican officials decided to reroute the line through New Mexico instead. Greg Abott has only one person to blame for the continued economic blowback: Greg Abbott.
“We’re now not going to use Texas,” Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier said. “We can’t leave all the eggs in one basket and be hostages to someone who wants to use trade as a political tool.” Anti-immigrant sentiment is ugly – and costly, as Greg Abbott continues to show.