National Data | No-one`s Suggesting Mass Deportation—But It Would Pay For Itself

A recent study questions whether deporting illegal immigrants would be worth the cost. Deporting the Undocumented: A Cost Assessment, [PDF] was published by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank.  It`s touted as the first-ever estimate of costs associated with apprehending, detaining, prosecuting, and removing immigrants who have entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas.

The cost of mass deportation according to CAP: $206 billion over five years ($41.2 billion per year). This study assumes that about 10 million illegals would be subject to deportation and 2 million would leave voluntarily if a mass deportation program was announced.

But $206 billion is an absurdly large figure. The largest chunk of it is apprehension costs ($141 billion).  In arriving at this figure, researchers blithely assumed that the historical, abysmally low, deportee apprehension rates would continue under a mass deportation regime:

“We extrapolate from the available evidence to provide an estimate of the per-apprehension cost. In 1999, 240 agents apprehended 2,849 unauthorized workers, and, as noted above, 90 agents apprehended 445 unauthorized workers in 2003. Assuming a typical annual cost of $175,714 per agent, and after summing the number of apprehensions (3,294) and agents (330), the average apprehension cost comes to $17,603. Assuming a 20% voluntary departure rate, the total costs for apprehending 8,000,000 undocumented immigrants would be $141 billion over five years.”

Ten deportees per agent per year is the apprehension rate the researchers used in estimating the cost of apprehending 8 million illegals. Ten per year! You can find more illegals in front of Wal-Mart in a single afternoon.

But even if $206 billion was a reasonable cost estimate, mass deportation would be well worth it. Just consider the economic burden illegal aliens impose on the rest of us:

Federal Deficit: The average illegal alien household receives $2,736 more Federal services than it pays in taxes. (See Table 1.) Since there are at least 3.8 million such households, the total drain on the federal budget is about $10.3 billion. [Steven A. Camarota, “The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget,” CIS, August 2004]

These are conservative estimates. CIS assumes, for example, an illegal immigrant population of 8.7 million (the official Census Bureau figure) versus 10 million assumed in the deportation study. VDARE.COM`s D.A. King, later supported by other researchers [PDF] puts the illegal alien population as high as 20 million.

State and local deficits: The comprehensive immigration study sponsored by the National Research Council [The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration, 1997] examined the fiscal impact of immigrants in California. While it did not explicitly compare illegal and legal immigrants, the NRC research staff found that the average immigrant household generated $3,823 more state and local spending than it paid in state and local taxes. (See Table 2.) Using California as a proxy for the national average, I estimate that illegal aliens increase state and local deficits by about $15 billion annually.

American worker displacement effects: There are roughly 7 million illegal immigrants working in the U.S. – about 3.5 percent of the labor force. Each 1 percent rise in U.S. labor force due to immigration reduces native-born wages by about 0.35 percent, according to George Borjas. [PDF] It follows, then, that illegal immigrant workers reduce wages of U.S.-born workers by approximately 1.2 percent (3.5X0.35).

If politicians don`t care, they should. Assuming native-born federal, state, and local tax payments fall by the same percent, native workers cough up $26 billion less taxes due to unfair competition from illegal alien workers.

Total fiscal benefits of deportation are thus estimated at $51 billion per year—$25 billion in deficit reduction and $26 billion in foregone displacement losses.

At this rate, mass deportation would pay for itself in about four years.

Plus, of course, we`d get America back.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.