Home > News

Border wall only needs to stop 9% to 12% of illegal crossings to cover costs

Article subtitle: 
Analysis Shows Border Wall Would Pay for Itself
Article publisher: 
Center for Immigration Studies
Article date: 
February 16, 2017
Article category: 
National News
Article Body: 

A new report by the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that if a wall at America’s southern border stopped between 160,000 and 200,000 illegal crossers — 9 to 12 percent of those expected to successfully cross in the next decade — the fiscal saving would equal the estimated $12 to $15 billion cost of the wall.  The analysis takes the likely education level of illegal border crossers and applies fiscal impact estimates, developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, for immigrants by educational attainment.  Based on the Academies estimates, each illegal border crosser creates a net fiscal burden (taxes minus expenditures) of approximately $74,722 during their lifetime, excluding costs for their U.S.-born children.

Dr. Steven Camarota, the Center’s director of research and author of the report, said, “The question of who would pay for a border wall has been discussed for months.  What the discussion has ignored is that illegal immigration comes with a price tag for the American taxpayer.  If the wall stopped only a modest fraction of those who cross the southern border illegally it would easily pay for itself in the long run.”

View the entire report: The Cost of a Border Wall vs. the Cost of Illegal Immigration

Among the findings:

  • There is agreement among researchers that an overwhelming percentage of illegal immigrants have modest levels of education — most have not completed high school or have only a high school education.
  • There is also agreement that immigrants who come to America with modest levels of education, create significantly more in costs for government than they pay in taxes.
  • A recent study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine estimated the life-time fiscal impact (taxes paid minus services used) of immigrants by education.  Averaging the cost estimates from that study and combining it with the education level of illegal border crossers shows a net fiscal drain of $74,722 per illegal crosser.  
  • If we use the Academies’ projections that include the descendants of immigrants, the fiscal drain for border crossers grows to $94,391. 
  • Newly released research by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), done for the Department of Homeland Security, indicates that 170,000 illegal immigrants crossed the border successfully between the ports of entry in 2015. While a significant decline in crossings from a decade ago, it still means that there may be 1.7 million successful crossings in the next decade. If a wall stopped just 9 to 12 percent of those crossing, it would pay for itself.    
  • If a wall stopped half of those expect to successfully enter illegally between the ports of entry at the southern border over the next ten years, it would save taxpayers nearly $64 billion —several times the wall’s cost.  This figure excludes costs for the children and descendants of the original immigrant. 

Important caveats and observations about these estimates:

  • In additional to crossing the border surreptitiously, aliens join the illegal population by overstaying a temporary visa.  A southern border wall would not address this half of the illegal flow. 
  • A large share of the net fiscal cost of illegal immigrants is at the state and local government level, not the federal.  The costs of building the wall will be borne by the federal government. 
  • To create its long-term fiscal estimates for immigrants by education level, the Academies uses the concept of “Net Present Value” (NPV).  This concept, which is commonly used by economists, has the effect of reducing the size of the net fiscal drain unskilled immigrants create in the future.   The Academies does this because a cost or benefit years from now is valued less in economics relative to a more immediate cost.  But this means the actual net lifetime cost of illegal border crosses, given their education levels, is possibly $140,000 to $150,000 in their life time, if the NPV concept is not used.


CAIRCO Research

Border security and porous United States - Mexico border wall / fence

How many illegal aliens reside in the United States?