How Much Would It Cost to Deport All Undocumented Immigrants?

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Undocumented immigrants wait in a holding facility after arriving at the U.S. Border Patrol detention center in Nogales, Arizona, on May 31, 2006. Jeff Topping/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Center for American Progress site.

Last week’s Gallup poll reaffirmed what we have known for a long time: The vast majority of Americans want sensible solutions to immigration policy, with 65 percent of Americans believing that unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to get legal status and a pathway to citizenship.

A small minority—only 19 percent—believe that unauthorized immigrants should be deported from the United States.

What would it cost if this fringe minority of Americans got their way, and the United States took the draconian step of deporting 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants from the country?

Based on previous analysis from the Center for American Progress, a mass deportation strategy would cost an average of $10,070 per person, for a total of $114 billion to remove 11.3 million people.

This figure includes the high costs that would be required to find each and every unauthorized individual. Since two-thirds of the unauthorized population have been in the country for more than a decade, they are well settled into our families, communities and schools. Finding every single person without legal status would be a logistical nightmare that would cause significant social and emotional damage to entire communities.

CAP’s $114 billion estimate also includes the cost to detain these individuals while they wait for removal, to process them through the immigration courts and to transport them abroad.

While $114 billion represents a startling sum of money, it is only the direct cost of physically deporting unauthorized immigrants. The cost to the overall economy would likely be far more.

The conservative American Action Forum, or AAF, has argued that it would take 20 years to accomplish a mass deportation program, with a full cost between $420 billion and $620 billion.

This higher estimated cost includes both the direct costs of deportations and the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, to remove 11.3 million people, on top of its responsibilities for border and interior security, over 20 years.

Beyond being prohibitively costly and morally unsustainable, removing so many individuals from the country—and from the labor force—would devastate the nation: The Bipartisan Policy Center calculates that deporting all unauthorized immigrants would shrink the labor force by 6.4 percent over two decades, which AAF estimates would decrease U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, by a full $ 1.6 trillion.

On the flip side, putting unauthorized immigrants on a pathway to citizenship—which two-thirds of Americans support—would add a cumulative $1.2 trillion to the GDP over a decade, increase the earnings of all Americans by $625 billion and create an average of 145,000 new jobs each year.

When it comes to the way forward for immigration policy, the choice is clear.

Philip E. Wolgin is associate director for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, where this article first appeared.