Making America “safe again” is expensive. To contain the (fictional) epidemics of “immigration crime” and refugee terrorism, the Trump administration hopes to hire 10,000 new immigration-enforcement agents and spend $12 to $21 billion on a border wall.
But the full cost of Trump’s immigration agenda is probably higher than any budget document would have you believe.
Consider the price America’s tourism industry has paid for the president’s infamous travel ban: Since Trump signed his name to an executive order barring immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, overseas interest in visiting the United States has plummeted. Per the New York Times:
The airfare prediction app Hopper … analyzed 303 million flight searches between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1 and found that flight search demand from 122 international countries to the United States dropped 17 percent after the implementation of the travel ban, compared with the first three weeks in January.
Demand bounced back slightly after the ban was temporarily lifted on Feb. 3 but was still down by more than 10 percent as of Feb. 10, compared with the first three weeks in January, said Hopper’s chief data scientist, Patrick Surry.
The Times goes on to review data from a litany of other travel companies, all testifying to the same phenomenon. Even if this downturn proves temporary, the cost to the American economy could be significant. In 2015, tourism-related spending reached $1.56 trillion in the U.S. — enough to generate 7.6 million jobs.
And there’s reason to think that the trend will endure. The White House is already preparing a new, less-sweeping version of its travel ban, even as the anti-American sentiment generated by the first one lingers on.
“There’s now a perception that the U.S. is a place of instability, and that view will impact visitation to this country,” Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University in New Jersey, told the Times.
The research firm Oxford Economics has projected that this Trump backlash could cost Los Angeles County $736 million in tourism spending over the next three years.
This is just one second-order consequence of a single item on Trump’s immigration agenda. The president’s travel ban also threatens the availability of medical care in rural hospitals and productivity growth in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, his plans to ramp up deportation risk throwing thousands of mixed-status families — specifically, families with citizen children and undocumented immigrant parents — into poverty.
To be fair, Trump’s immigration agenda could also, ostensibly, produce some positive economic ripple effects. Underemployed construction workers may end up pocketing some of those border-wall funds; it’s conceivable that native-born, high-school dropouts might see higher wages in the absence of competition from the undocumented.
Still, when you look to the bigger picture, it is very hard to make the economic case for an “America First” agenda. The White House’s budget is premised on our country enjoying 3 percent annual economic growth for much of the next decade. With more baby-boomers retiring every day, that level of growth is all but impossible absent much higher levels of immigration: At present, net immigration is responsible for nearly all of the growth in America’s working-age population.
The details of the administration’s agenda on legal immigration remain unclear. But after one month in office, Trump has already made America a less desirable place to visit. It’s hard to imagine he’s made it a more desirable one to immigrate to.