In the lead up to this year’s election, we have heard a lot of numbers bandied around when it comes to immigration. It’s hard to understand just how politicians found these figures and what those numbers really mean when translated into financial costs. President-elect Trump ran his campaign promising to deport all undocumented immigrants, but oddly for a businessman, he never discussed financial costs for undertaking such an endeavor. To get a better handle on what’s really in play when it comes to immigration, let’s explore some of these numbers we have been hearing so much of over the past months.
Where did the “11 – 12 million” undocumented immigrants estimate come from?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Its most recent estimate was 11.4 million as of January 2012. This number includes both people who entered illegally and those who overstayed their visas.
The 2012 estimate of undocumented immigrants is derived from two estimated populations. The 2010 census gathered by the American Community Survey (“ACS”) of the U.S. Census Bureau came up with the estimated total foreign-born population living in the United States on January 2012. DHS provided the estimated legal resident population in 2012. When you subtract the legal resident population from the foreign-born population, you get 11.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Legal Resident Population – Foreign-Born Population = Undocumented Population
You may be wondering what it means to be a legal resident of the U.S. A legal resident is a U.S. lawful permanent resident also known as “green card holder”, or a non-immigrant resident (a foreign-born person who has permission to reside in the U.S. through a temporary visa). A few examples of who may fall into this category are a foreign student enrolled in a U.S. university through a “student visa”, an engineer employed at a tech company through a “high-skill visa”, a CEO transferred from an affiliate foreign company to a U.S. company through an “intra-company transferee visa”, or an A-list foreign actress producing a movie in Hollywood through an “artist visa.”
How does DHS know there are 1.9 million removable criminal aliens?
In a 2013 DHS performance report and budget request, DHS estimated that there were 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.” DHS derived this 1.9 million estimate by using the U.S. Census Bureau ACS 2008 estimate for the foreign-born population living in the U.S., and adjusted this number for the undercount of undocumented immigrants by 10%. The term “undercount” is the number of persons who should have been counted in the census but were not. DHS used the Justice Department’s 2003 report on the prevalence of imprisonment of the U.S. Population indicating the percentage of American adults who have gone to jail at least once, and applied this percentage to the foreign-born population, resulting in an estimate of 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.”
In a report published by DHS “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States” from 2012, California is the state with the highest number of undocumented immigrants.
According to a 2008 Public Policy Institute of California report, the incarceration rate for the foreign-born population was less than half of the U.S.-born population. The report points out that the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults is 297 per 100,000 in the population, as opposed to 813 per 100,000 for U.S.-born adults. The report also states that people who are foreign-born make up 17% of the state prison population, which has remained consistent since 1990.
So if the foreign-born population is twice less likely to be incarcerated than U.S.-born adults, then DHS should have applied this adjustment in their methodology, which would have resulted in, at the very most, 850,000 “removable criminal aliens.” Far different from Trump’s grossly overstated proclamation of 3 million.
The important factor when evaluating the estimate of 1.9 million or 850,000, whichever you choose to consider, is both estimates include immigrants living in the U.S. legally as lawful permanent residents or people on temporary visas as well as those living here illegally.
As you can see, Trump not only stretched the truth by a few million to 3 million, he has re-categorized the estimated population as criminals who are living here “illegally.” Trump may end up spending a lot of taxpayers’ money searching for 3 million people who don’t exist.
Current Deportation Policy
Now that you have an idea of where the numbers have come from, let’s review some critical changes that took place to pave the way for our current immigration policy.
The Obama administration has been accused of being too lenient on undocumented immigrants, especially those with criminal convictions. However, since President Obama took office, there have been more deportations than any other President in history. In fact, immigrant right groups refer to President Obama as “Deporter-in-Chief.”
According to the DHS FY 2015 ICE Immigration’s Removal online report, from 2009 to 2015, DHS has deported over 2.5 million immigrants. This figure does not include the 2016 data because it has yet to be released.
In 2014, Obama changed Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) strategy on deportation. His administration outlined new guidelines making deportation for those with criminal convictions as the highest priority. The graph below from the DHS website reflects these changes. In 2009, 35% of deportees were convicted of crimes whereas in 2015, that number increased to 59%. The blue section of the graph refers to the group of deportees who were not convicted of crimes. A vast majority of these individuals were apprehended while illegally crossing the border and deported right away.
DHS classifies removals in two camps, interior and exterior removals. An interior removal refers to a person who was apprehended within the U.S. and deported, whereas an exterior removal refers to an individual caught by the Custom’s Border Patrol while attempting to illegally enter the U.S. through the border or an airport.
According to DHS, 91% of interior removals were for immigrants previously convicted of a crime. Furthermore, 94% of deportees who were not convicted of crimes were caught at the border or port of entry. So when Trump claims he is going to come into office and make the deportation of criminal aliens his number one priority, what he is really saying is he is going to copy President Obama’s immigration policy.
The Finances of Deportation: Easier Said Than Done
The theory of performing a mass deportation of millions of immigrants is logistically and financially a nightmare for taxpayers.
Unlike what Trump’s rhetoric suggests, you can’t just round up people you believe are deportable and put them on planes back to their home countries. There is a process outlined in the immigration code that requires those under consideration for deportation to go through immigration court (though note that this does not apply to a vast majority of those caught and removed at the border). This is because many undocumented immigrants living within the U.S. have a U.S. citizen spouse, parent or child and if they can prove their removal from the U.S. would cause extreme hardship to their U.S. citizen family members, the judge may grant them U.S. residency and stop the deportation. This is only one example of a form of relief available in deportation proceedings.
The national average time for a case to go through immigration court is 666 days or roughly two years.
Then there are cases involving detaining individuals in immigration detention centers, similar to prisons. Immigration detention is the process of holding a person in a detention center until a decision has been made by immigration authorities on whether or not to deport the individual; it is also used to facilitate a deportation. In some cases such as those involving criminal convictions, a person may be subject to mandatory detention until an Immigration Judge makes a decision on their case. Either way, immigration detentions come with a heavy price tag.
The FY 2014 Omnibus (The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014) gave DHS almost $1.9 million for detention-related costs which worked out to be $161 for the cost of detaining one person for one day. This figure has been widely accepted, give or take $10, by private research organizations as the estimated cost for detaining a person for a day.
Detention Cost Per Person: $161 Per Day
Trump initially ran his campaign on the promise he would deport all 11.4 million undocumented immigrants. Let’s just pretend for a second that Trump were to carry out his policy and use immigration detention to facilitate these deportations. To detain 11.4 million people for one day would cost $1.8 billion (or nearly all of the DHS expenditure for detention for 2014), one week $12.8 billion and one month $55 billion.
Just to put this into perspective, DHS’ overall budget for 2016 was only $64 billion which included money for operating other sub-departments not responsible for deportations.
Once Trump was elected, he changed his promise and narrowed his focus to deporting the “illegals” with criminal convictions, the “3 million” or so he claims exist. One day of detaining 3 million people would cost the taxpayer $483 million, while one week would cost $3.3 billion and one month $14 billion.
The cost for the estimated 1.9 million removable criminal aliens would be $305 million per day, $2.1 billion per a week and $4.1 billion per a month.
The cost for detaining 850,000 people would be $136 million per day, $957 million per a week and $4.1 billion per a month.
These are only costs for detaining an individual. This does not include other expenses involved in deportation such as the cost for finding these individuals, the administrative costs of processing cases through Immigration Court nor transportation expenses for deporting these people to their home countries.
Back in 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deputy director Kumar Kibble told Congress it cost $5 billion to deport 393,000 immigrants. When you do the math, that means it cost $12,722 to deport one person. Now multiply that by 11.4 million and you get $145 billion. Keep going with Trump’s 3 million number, you get $38 billion and with 1.9 million you get $21 billion.
It costs $12,772 to deport one person in America
It just doesn’t add up, and I haven’t even talked about the loss of tax income from these immigrant who, regardless of their status, still pay taxes into the system. Anyone who has the business savvy Trump claims to have would call this a reckless and foolish financial understanding.
Photo Credit: Business Insider