Texas Governor Greg Abbott just concluded a week-long visit to India to bolster economic ties with the rising Asian economy. While in India, Abbott took no break from his battle with President Joe Biden over illegal immigration.
After the Supreme Court’s decision to allow federal authorities to remove razor wire put up by Texas along its Mexico border, Abbott issued a statement accusing the president of violating his constitutional duty to guard his state’s borders. Abbott said he reserved “Texas’s constitutional authority to defend and protect itself.”
Ironically, India — the country from which Abbott issued that statement — is the country of origin of one of the fastest-growing illegal migrant populations coming in through the U.S. southern border.
Yet during his visit, Abbott has made no mention of the rise in Indian illegal immigrants entering through Texas and other Southern states. In fact, he’s been consistently silent on the matter.
Indian Illegal Immigrants Entering From Southern Border Surge
In the 2023 fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded 42,000 encounters with Indian nationals at the southern border, more than double the number from 2022 and a sixteen-fold increase from 2021.
Nationwide, CBP recorded a total of 96,917 encounters with Indian nationals in 2023, making India the largest source of illegal immigrants in the U.S. outside of the Americas and war-torn Ukraine last year. Nearly twice as many Indian illegal migrants were apprehended in 2023 than Chinese nationals.
The southern border is not the only entry point for Indian illegal immigrants. Far more Indian nationals have entered the U.S. with legitimate documents through airports but have overstayed their visas. In fact, in total, Indians make up the third largest number of illegal immigrants in the U.S., trailing only Mexicans and Salvadorians, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Unauthorized Indian migrants are pouring into the U.S. for a variety of reasons. Some are religious minorities, including Christians and Sikhs, fleeing persecution in Hindu nationalist India and have legitimate asylum cases.
Many others are economic migrants, escaping joblessness in rural India. India has ranked among the world’s fastest-growing large economies, but it has lagged in producing new jobs for its young labor force.
Corrupt business barons allied with Prime Minister Narendra Modi have seen their wealth surge, but for ordinary Indians, this has been a period of jobless growth. So some choose to simply cut the line — at great financial cost and personal risk.
The largest number of undocumented or illegal Indian migrants come from Gujarat — Modi’s home state — and Punjab, a majority Sikh region. The Indian government has targeted Sikh activists in the U.S. as part of a global assassination program.
What Brought Abbott to India?
Abbott’s India trip was paid for by the Texas Economic Development Corporation (TEDC), a public-private body that promotes foreign investment in the state. Its leadership includes Arun Agarwal, a major Indian American donor to Abbott, who joined the governor on his trip.
In 2022, Abbott appointed Agarwal to serve as vice chair of the TEDC board. Agarwal is the CEO of Nextt, a half-billion-dollar company that supplies textiles made in India to U.S. retailers like Walmart and Costco.
Since 2014, Agarwal has donated $238,409 to Abbott’s gubernatorial campaigns, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Abbott’s first trip to India — a nine-day visit in 2018 — was also paid for by the TEDC, whose board at the time was chaired by another Indian American donor to the Abbott campaign, Sanjiv Yajnik. In comparison to Agarwal, Yajnik’s contributions were a more modest $12,604 from 2014 to 2017.
Ignoring the Elephant in the Room
During his India trip, Abbott met with Indian business leaders, including Gautam Adani, who is once again India’s richest man, with an estimated net worth of $100 billion.
Adani is a close ally of Modi. The billionaire helped Modi rehabilitate his image after anti-Muslim pogroms that took place under his watch in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Adani made a winning bet on Modi. During Modi’s first eight years as prime minister, Adani saw his net worth surge by 20-fold from $7.1 billion in 2014 to $150 billion in 2022.
Adani has been accused of “brazen stock manipulation” and “the largest con in corporate history.” But he has not only evaded public accountability under Modi, he his energy and infrastructure businesses have also been given “major concessions “undue benefits” by the Indian government, according to public auditors.
During his visit to India, Abbott not only ignored the issue of Indian illegal immigration to the U.S., but he also strengthened partnerships with the very forces that are among the drivers of the Indian migrant surge: India’s Hindu nationalist leadership and its cronies among the business elite.
In India, Abbott told Tucker Carlson that he is “prepared” for a conflict with federal authorities on illegal immigration. But he clearly skirted the issue with his Indian counterparts, missing an opportunity to discuss some of the root causes of the migrant crisis. Why?
Abbott did well with Asian American voters in 2022, winning 48 percent of their vote. But his campaign money trail likely better explains his conspicuous silence on the rise in illegal and unauthorized immigrants from India.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.