Donald Trump has proposed building an impenetrable wall along the Mexican border to halt illegal immigration while hunting down and deporting the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the United States.
My question: What would this cost?
Anybody can climb over a wall, so a barrier, to be effective, would have to be guarded, like the Berlin Wall. Maybe it would be possible to use electronic surveillance, perhaps from drones, to detect illegal crossers, but it would still cost a lot of money and require a lot of people.
Furthermore a wall would not be sufficient to secure U.S. borders. A large fraction of illegal immigrants enter the U.S. by sea, or enter the U.S. legally and overstay their visas. More than a million of them are from Asia.
Finding and deporting unauthorized immigrants would be no easy task. Many of them would be protected and hidden by their employers and friends. That could be made a crime, too, I suppose.
I don’t see how this could be enforced without a fascist-style or Soviet-style requirement that everybody be required to carry identity papers at all times, subject to arrest if they don’t, and a system of checkpoints so that people have to frequently show their papers.
How much would all this cost? I don’t think anybody really knows.
The American Action Institute, a pro-immigration “center-right” policy institute, estimated that Trump’s policy could cost $400 billion to $600 billion over 20 years.
This is based on $103.9 billion to $303.7 billion to arrest, detain and process illegal immigrants already here and $315.7 billion to make the United States absolutely secure against new illegal immigrants.
The liberal Center for American Progress in 2010 estimated it would cost $285 billion (in 2008 dollars) to deport the current illegal immigrant population over five years.
(As a benchmark for these figures, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that President Obama’s economic stimulus plan will have cost $830 billion over the 10 years ending in 2019.)
Donald Trump’s time frame is much shorter. He wants to deport 11 million people in 18 to 24 months. As Heather Haddon of the Wall Street Journal pointed out, this would require substantially more deportations every month than currently occur in a year.
I suspect the actual cost of implementing Trump’s policy would be even more than even what his critics say.
I don’t suspect Trump’s critics of low-balling their estimates, but their figures are based on current costs deportations. The unauthorized immigrants now being deported are “low-hanging fruit”—the ones that are easiest to find.
As enforcement was stepped up and deportations increased, the remaining hidden migrants would be the ones that were hardest to find, and the most expensive to discover.
I can think of better ways to put Americans to work than in searching for illegal immigrants and more urgent infrastructure needs than a giant wall along the southern border.
I admit I am of two minds about immigration policy. I respect migrants who are willing to risk everything in order to provide a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
But I do not favor open borders because I think there is a limit to the number of newcomers any nation can absorb.
I don’t think it is feasible to deport 11 million people and, since they are going to be in the United States on a long-term basis, they should be under the protection of American law.
They still would be competing with American citizens for jobs, but they wouldn’t be competing on the basis that they worked for sub-minimum wages and without benefits.
The Budgetary and Economic Costs of Addressing Unauthorized Immigration: Alternative Strategies by Ben Gitis and Laura Collins for the American Action Forum.
The Costs of Mass Deportation by Marshall Fitz, Gabe Martinez and Madura Wijewardena for the Center for American Progress.
Donald Trump Says Immigrant Deportations Done in Two Years by Heather Haddon for The Wall Street Journal.
5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S. by Jens Michael Krogstad and Jeffrey S. Passel for Pew Research Center.
Ramos: 40% of undocumented immigrants come by air by Jon Greenberg for Pundifact. What is shown is that at least 40 percent enter US by methods other than illegally crossing a border overland.
Demographics of immigrants in the United States illegally by ProCon’s Illegal Immigration Solutions web site.
Estimates of the illegal immigrant population residing in the United States: January 2012 by Bryan Baker and Nancy Rytina for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.
Modes of Entry for the Unauthorized Migrant Population by the Pew Hispanic Center.