Deportation vs. the Cost of Letting Illegal Immigrants Stay

13 July 2019
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A relevant study from the Center for Immigration Studies reveals that deportation is much less costly then allowing illegal aliens to stay in America.

Deportation vs. the Cost of Letting Illegal Immigrants Stay, by Steven A. Camarota, August 3, 2017:

The findings of this analysis show that the average cost of a deportation is much smaller than the net fiscal drain created by the average illegal immigrant. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported the average deportation cost as $10,854 in FY 2016. In FY 2012, ICE removed 71 percent more aliens with a similar budget, creating an average inflation-adjusted cost of $5,915. This compares to an average lifetime net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus services used) of $65,292 for each illegal immigrant, excluding their descendants. This net figure is based on fiscal estimates of immigrants by education level from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS).1 The total fiscal drain for the entire illegal population is estimated at $746.3 billion....

Costs of illegal immigrants

  • Researchers agree that illegal immigrants overwhelmingly have modest levels of education — most have not completed high school or have only a high school education. There is also agreement that immigrants with this level of education are a significant net fiscal drain, creating more in costs for government than they pay in taxes.
  • The NAS estimated the lifetime fiscal impact (taxes paid minus services used) of immigrants based on their educational attainment. Averaging those estimates and applying them to the education level of illegal immigrants shows a net fiscal drain of $65,292 per illegal — excluding any costs for their children.
  • Based on this estimate, there is a total lifetime fiscal drain of $746.3 billion. This assumes 11.43 million illegal immigrants are in the country based on the U.S. government's most recent estimate.
  • The fiscal cost created by illegal immigrants of $746.3 billion compares to total a cost of deportation of $124.1 billion, assuming a FY 2016 cost per deportation, or $67.6 billion using FY 2012 deportation costs.....


One argument made by opponents of immigration enforcement is that it would be prohibitively expensive to deport all illegal immigrants, so we have to amnesty them.3 Advocates of enforcement argue this is a false choice as it is not necessary to deport all or even most illegal immigrants. Rather, actually enforcing immigration laws would cause many illegal immigrants to return to their home countries on their own.4 It would also discourage new illegal immigrants from coming. Nonetheless, the cost of deportations vs. allowing illegal immigrants to stay is still an important question.
To answer that question, this analysis takes the cost that Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) estimates for the average deportation and compares it to the lifetime fiscal impact of the average illegal immigrant. We estimate two different deportation costs because ICE's immigration enforcement budgets have been relatively stable in recent years, but the number of deportations has varied considerably, creating very different average deportation costs. To calculate the net fiscal impact of the average illegal immigrant, we take their likely education levels and apply fiscal estimates (taxes paid minus costs) developed by the NAS for immigrants by education level. Our findings show that deportation is much less costly than allowing illegal immigrants to stay. Of course, fiscal impacts are not the only consideration when weighting the various policy options....



Overall, different assumptions can affect the results. But because the overwhelming share of illegal immigrants residing in the country have not completed high school or have only a high school education, it would require highly implausible assumptions to avoid a substantial net fiscal drain from this population. In short, illegal immigrants are a large net fiscal drain because of their education levels and this fact drives the results. Deportation, on the other hand, is not that costly relative to the fiscal costs illegal immigrants create. Of course, there are many other factors to consider when deciding on the best course of action than just the fiscal balance between removal and allowing illegal immigrants to remain. That said, deporting a large share of illegal immigrants can be justified from a fiscal point of view.