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Costly GOP Nativism: Texas Gov. Abbott and Other Republicans Harm U.S. Economic Potential

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“At some point we either decide to become older and smaller or we change our immigration policy,” economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin

Washington, DC – Republicans’ nativism and relentless focus on keeping out and kicking out immigrants and refugees is inflicting consequences on the U.S. economy and dampening our economic potential, as several recent stories remind us. 

A national Associated Press story by Nicholas Riccardi, “Less immigrant labor in US contributing to price hikes,” notes:

“After immigration to the United States tapered off during the Trump administration — then ground to a near complete halt for 18 months during the coronavirus pandemic — the country is waking up to a labor shortage partly fueled by that slowdown. The U.S. has, by some estimates, 2 million fewer immigrants than it would have if the pace had stayed the same, helping power a desperate scramble for workers in many sectors, from meatpacking to homebuilding, that is also contributing to supply shortages and price increases.

‘These 2 million missing immigrants are part of the reason we have a labor shortage,’ said Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California at Davis, who calculated the shortfall. ‘In the short run, we are going to adjust to these shortages in the labor market through an increase in wages and in prices.’

… ‘At some point we either decide to become older and smaller or we change our immigration policy,’ said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and former official in President George W. Bush’s administration who is president of the center-right American Action Forum.”

Meanwhile, the relentless anti-immigrant stunts of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are inflicting a cost on the Texas economy and are poised to get worse as Gov. Abbott doubles down on his ugly nativism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is perhaps the most egregious example of how Republicans’ relentless scapegoating and performative, politicized nativism comes with real world consequences, including a mounting economic toll. Gov. Abbott’s recent truck inspection stunt cost the state billions of dollars and detected zero drugs or weapons. Yet the economic toll from that stunt is poised to worsen and Gov. Abbott continues to find new targets for harmful anti-immigrant stunts.

As the San Antonio Current reported, “according to an analysis by the Waco-based Perryman Group, the U.S. lost an estimated $8.97 billion due to shipping delays between April 6 and 15, the time in which Abbott’s rule was in effect. Texas alone lost $4.23 billion in gross product.” But the economic toll doesn’t stop there. As the Dallas Morning News reported last week, “The Mexican government said it intends to shift long-range plans to build a trade railway connection worth billions of dollars from Texas to New Mexico in the wake of Gov. Greg Abbott’s stepped-up border inspections last month, which were widely criticized as being financially damaging and may now leave a lasting impact on relations between Texas and its No. 1 trading partner.”

Why would Gov. Abbott willingly inflict such economic damage? As the Washington Post put it, the “contentious episode underscored what allies and critics alike said is at the core of the conservative stalwart’s political strategy as he seeks a third term for governor this fall and eyes a potential presidential run in 2024: establishing himself as President Biden’s most visible adversary on immigration and the staunchest border hawk in his party.”

Now, fresh off the Roe leaked opinion last week, Gov. Abbott noted his intention to potentially challenge other Supreme Court precedent, such as the 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision that affirmed that undocumented children can attend public schools. After a fierce backlash, Ryan Rusak wrote in his Fort Worth Star-Telegram column, “Ready, fire, aim: Gov. Abbott keeps hitting the wrong targets on illegal immigration”:

“Gov. Greg Abbott is relentlessly targeting the border issue in his re-election campaign. The problem, as the old saying goes, is that he seems to think the sequence is ready, fire, aim. 

…Abbott clearly believes that pounding away at immigration and the border is key to beating Beto O’Rourke. The vocal base of his party wants the toughest possible rhetoric and action, and Abbott is determined to please them.

A few such voters might be fine with pulling children out of the classroom. But most Republicans, let alone independents and even Democrats otherwise open to a message about border disorder, draw the line. Ranting about immigrants in the abstract is one thing; punishing specific children in our communities is another. After all, most people realize that those kids are probably going to remain here. It benefits no one to deny them education.”

According to Douglas Rivlin Director of Communication for America’s Voice:

Immigrants have always been an essential part of the American story, but Republicans want to rewrite our history and cut immigrants out of our future. The GOP has radicalized to the point that they deliberately impose major hits to the economy to harm Biden politically, prevent new immigrants from becoming part of the American fabric and restrict opportunity for all Americans in doing so. We need immigrants and new legal pathways for willing workers in order to grow our economy, address worker shortages, and combat inflation. Yet the vast majority of Republican officials across America are going in the opposite direction, preferring cheap stunts and anti-immigrant fear-mongering while blocking reforms to modernize our immigration system. 

Republican nativism comes at a real cost. We have not recovered from the twin shocks to immigration, Donald Trump and COVID-19, and Republicans are actively blocking solutions. The direct costs associated with Gov. Abbott’s base-stoking stunts and the missed opportunities posed by GOP hostility to immigration reforms are hitting every American wallet. The American people overwhelmingly support immigration reform and immigrants want to come to work, but Republicans are in the way. It is just another example of how Republicans are imposing their minority view on the majority of the country.