It is highly unfortunate that it took a natural disaster for a prominent member of the Republican Party to understand the benefits of free labor. Indeed, it was in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour came to appreciate the influx of labor, both legal and illegal, to help the ailing state. With hundreds dead and billions of dollars in damage, Mississippi was on its knees. In an interview with Peter Robinson from the Hoover Institution, Governor Barbour attributed much of the success of the recovery effort to immigrant workers.
I don’t know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn’t been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there’s no doubt in my mind some of them weren’t here legally. Some of them were, some of them weren’t. But they came in, they looked for the work. If they hadn’t been there, if they hadn’t come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now.
The entire Katrina recovery effort owes much of its success to President Bush, who suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina stating that it would “result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals.” The act, implemented in 1931 to intentionally stifle competition in the labor market and keep blacks out of work, was also suspended by George H. W. Bush in 1992 in response to Hurricane Andrew.
It strikes me as odd that Republicans support a free labor market in times of disaster but otherwise turn immediately into protectionists with an asinine immigration policy. There are a few, however, who get it, such as Arizona Representative Jeff Flake.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!