New Study Estimates Mass Deportation of Undocumented Immigrants Would Cost $285 Billion

Friday, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report estimating that a strategy aimed at deporting the nation’s population of undocumented immigrants would total approximately $285 billion over five years. According to the report, a deportation-only policy would amount to $922 in new taxes for “every man, woman, and child in this country”:

The undeniable conclusion from these findings is that the federal price tag to deport all undocumented immigrants currently in the United States is prohibitive. The operational feasibility of such a massive effort is dubious at best. It would require an unprecedented deployment of resources, and the problems currently plaguing our detention system and immigration courts would be exacerbated in the extreme and would likely precipitate widespread human rights and due process violations. Moreover, a mass deportation strategy would have a crippling impact on economic growth. The exorbitant direct costs of such a strategy detailed in this report should be the final nail in the coffin of a moribund idea.

CAP breaks its numbers down to four separate categories: the cost of apprehending millions of undocumented immigrants ($153 billion), the cost of processing their deportations ($7 billion), the necessary cost of temporarily detaining undocumented immigrants before their deportations ($29 billion), and the cost of transporting undocumented immigrants to their home countries ($6 billion). CAP bases its figures on the assumption that there are 10.8 million undocumented immigrants and that 20 percent of them will self-deport before coming in contact with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). From there, CAP calculates that 8.64 million undocumented immigrants will require processing and detention by immigration authorities and that 6.22 million of them will require government transport.

Groups that support an enforcement-only approach to immigration insist that they do not advocate a policy of mass deportation, but rather support an “attrition through enforcement” strategy — a harsh strategy used to “wear down the will” of undocumented immigrants through increased deportations, detentions, and anti-immigrant ordinances. According to these groups, many immigrants will choose to deport themselves at minimal cost to the U.S. taxpayer. However, research has shown that ramped up enforcement doesn’t drive most immigrants back to their home countries, rather it only pushes them deeper into the shadows.

Even if the U.S. didn’t aim to deport every single undocumented immigrant, the costs associated with any large-scale deportation program like the anti-immigration groups propose are significant. CAP estimates that it costs $23,148 for each person to be apprehended, detained, legally processed, and finally transported
out of the country. ICE deported 349,041 immigrants during the 2008 fiscal year ending September 30. Using CAP’s estimates, that means that the government spent approximately $8,079,601,068 last year alone.

andreaUltimately, anti-immigration groups couldn’t even wish undocumented immigrants away for free. In a paper released in January, UCLA professor Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda published research which found that if undocumented immigrants were removed from the economy, it would reduce U.S. GDP by $2.6 trillion over ten years. Hinojosa-Ojeda also affirmed that if undocumented immigrants were put on an earned path to legalization as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package, it would result in at least $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years.

Andrea Christina Nill

Republished with permission from the Wonk Room/Think Progress

Published by the LA Progressive on March 22, 2010
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About Andrea Christina Nill

Andrea Nill is an Immigration Researcher/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org and The Progress Report at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Political Science with a concentration in Latin American Studies and Law and Society. Prior to joining the center, Andrea was a Communications Associate at the Immigration Policy Center where she founded the blog, Immigration Impact. Andrea was also a Communications Specialist at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), specializing in bilingual public relations. Andrea was born in Guatemala and grew up in upstate New York.