A recently published research paper underscores that “full enforcement” of U.S. immigration laws by removing undocumented immigrants and preventing immigrants from illegally entering the country would result in enormous costs to the nation and have devastating effects on the economy.
The paper by the American Action Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, concludes that the cost of fully enforcing the nation’s immigration laws against the estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would cost the government between $400 billion and $600 billion over the next 20 years. The economic effect would be a shrinking of the labor force by 11 million workers and a reduction in real Gross Domestic Product by $1.6 trillion.
The paper estimates that of the $400 billion to $600 billion total cost of enforcement, between $100 billion and $300 billion would be spent removing the entire current undocumented immigrant population from the U.S. This would encompass apprehending, detaining, legally processing, and transporting undocumented immigrants to their home countries. Preventing illegal entry into the U.S. would cost an additional $315 billion.
“Not only would it cost the taxpayer budget dollars, it would also greatly burden the economy,” the paper adds. “The labor force would shrink by 6.4 percent and, as a result, in 20 years the U.S. GDP would be almost 6 percent lower than it would be without fully enforcing current law.” While this impact would be found throughout the economy, hardest hit would be the agriculture, construction, retail, and restaurant sectors.
The paper estimates that “full enforcement” of the immigration laws would result in approximately 20% of undocumented immigrants leaving the U.S. voluntarily, with the federal government having to seek removal of 8.96 million individuals.
Even while detailing the potentially enormous costs to the nation of full enforcement, the paper adds that actual costs would be much higher. “While our estimated costs are quite large, we consider them conservative in nature because we are unable to account for the capital expenditures needed to expand the immigration removal infrastructure, such as building additional prisons and court rooms, and for the possibility that a number of lawful immigrant residents would leave the United States with their undocumented family members,” the paper adds.
In 2013, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 330,651 immigrants who were unlawfully residing in the United States, and the agency has the capacity to remove a maximum of 400,000 immigrants per year, according to the paper. This means that absent any significant investment in the immigration removal infrastructure, it would take the federal government roughly 20 years to remove the 8.96 million undocumented immigrants.
In contrast to the estimated $400-$600 billion it would take to remove undocumented workers from the U.S. and prevent others from entering the U.S., the paper notes that in fiscal year 2013, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s budget was $10.4 billion and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s budget was $5.4 billion, totaling $15.8 billion in total enforcement expenditures.
The American Action Forum, describes itself as a center-right policy institute providing research and analysis to solve America’s most pressing policy challenges. Its president is Douglas Holz-Eakin, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office. The research paper, called “The Budgetary and Economic Costs of Addressing Unauthorized Immigration: Alternative Strategies” is available here.
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