A new study by a liberal Washington think tank puts the cost of forcibly removing most of the nation's estimated 10 million illegal immigrants at $41 billion a year, a sum that exceeds the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security.
The study, "Deporting the Undocumented: A Cost Assessment," scheduled for release today by the Center for American Progress, is billed by its authors as the first-ever estimate of costs associated with arresting, detaining, prosecuting and removing immigrants who have entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas. The total cost would be $206 billion to $230 billion over five years, depending on how many of the immigrants leave voluntarily, according to the study.
"There are some people who suggest that mass deportation is an option," said Rajeev K. Goyle, senior domestic policy analyst for the center and a co-author of the study. "To understand deportation policy response, we had to have a number."
Advocates for tougher enforcement of immigration laws did not dispute the study's figures but disputed its assumptions about how enforcement would work.
The study assumed that tougher enforcement would induce 10 percent to 20 percent of undocumented residents in the United States to leave voluntarily. But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates stronger enforcement of immigration laws, argued that as many as half would leave voluntarily if the government were to aggressively seek them out and crack down on businesses that hire them illegally.
"We do need to know what enforcement would cost," he said, "but [the study] is a cartoon version of how enforcement would work."
The study estimates that it would cost about $28 billion per year to apprehend illegal immigrants, $6 billion a year to detain them, $500 million for extra beds, $4 billion to secure borders, $2 million to legally process them and $1.6 billion to bus or fly them home.
Goyle said that he conducted the study, in part, to respond to conservative officials who have advocated mass deportations, in some cases immediately. Earlier this year, former House speaker Newt Gingrich advocated sealing U.S. borders and deporting all illegal immigrants within 72 hours of arrest.
Will Adams, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), an outspoken advocate of stronger immigration laws, called the study an "an interesting intellectual exercise" by liberals that is "useless . . . because no one's talking about" employing mass deportation as a tactic.
"No one's talking about buying planes, trains and automobiles to get them out of the country," Adams said. "The vast number of illegal immigrants are coming for jobs. Congressman Tancredo wants to go after the employers."