CNN reported this week that the U.S. government spends more than $10,000 on average to deport each illegal alien, the implication being that taxpayers pay a heavy price for the removal of those in the country illegally.
But a group that advocates for enforcing immigration law says the cost of removal is a bargain.
“What we need to do is start removing the incentive for people to stay here.”
“It costs a lot more to allow people to remain here,” says Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
How much more? FAIR estimates that the burden placed on U.S. taxpayers by the roughly 13 million illegal immigrants residing in the country stands at roughly $113 billion a year.
The biggest cost-driver is education, according to a detailed 2010 analysis from the organization. It costs more than $50 billion each year to educate illegal immigrant children and the children of illegal immigrants, researchers found — with most paid through local property taxes and by states, with the federal government chipping in more than $1 billion for Title I programs.
Somewhat shockingly, the state of Iowa alone spends more than $300 million a year to educate English Language Learners, the vast majority of whom are children of illegal immigrants.
In Florida and Illinois, it’s almost $3 billion, according to a 2016 FAIR report, which looks only at education costs. In Texas, it’s $7.5 billion, and in California it’s $16 billion. Every year.
Medicaid for the children of illegal immigrants costs $1.6 billion a year, according to FAIR’s estimates, and U.S. taxpayers spend another $1.2 billion a year on Medicaid for childbirths: Medicaid pays because it is assumed that the children who are born will be U.S. citizens, under the “anchor-baby” policy.
But the $113 billion likely doesn’t even cover all the costs associated with illegal immigration.
It doesn’t cover the cost to U.S. taxpayers, for example, to prosecute crimes committed by illegal aliens.
“Some of these costs we don’t know, so we can’t report,” says Spencer Raley, a FAIR researcher who is working on an update to the 2010 report, to be released later this year.
It also doesn’t cover the loss to American businesses of remittances, the amount of money earned here by immigrants, many of them illegal, that is not spent here in our communities but rather sent back to families in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, etc. The World Bank reports that Mexico alone gets more than $25 billion a year in remittances from the U.S.
The researchers, furthermore, didn’t calculate the effect of illegal-immigrant workers in pushing down wages for Americans, or displacing them in some jobs.
Nor did the FAIR research include the effects of illegal-immigrant criminal gangs on the American economy, or local communities.
“That’s another thing that we would love to include in our cost studies, because I assume that would be billions more,” says Raley.
On deportations, FAIR is watching closely, but the organization isn’t sure what the Trump administration will do.
Matt O’Brien, director of research for FAIR and a former attorney with both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS), says “blatant statements” from President Donald Trump have led to a steep drop-off in border crossings, but that deportation of people already in the country is “more complicated.”
Part of the problem, he says, is that CIS is “staffed with a bunch of open-borders advocates.”
But the cost of deportations, says Mehlman, should not be an issue.
“For the 100 billion we’re now spending [per year], you could deport 10 million people, in theory,” he says.
But FAIR is not necessarily pushing for mass deportations, or expecting them.
“What we need to do is start removing the incentive for people to stay here,” says Mehlman. “The IRS doesn’t audit every tax return. You do enough of it, and everybody gets the message.”
He says the U.S. really needs to “ramp up enforcement against employers” and require every employer to use E-Verify.
“There’s no technological impediment,” he says, pointing out that credit-card companies process hundreds of millions of transactions a day, while guarding against fraud.
“The president has tried to use the authority that he has,” says Mehlman. “But Congress needs to get its act together and act legislatively.”