Candidate and now-President Donald J. Trump has made the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants a central part of his platform and agenda. Early in his campaign, in an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on August 16th, 2015, then-candidate Trump repeated his pledge to deport all undocumented immigrants. When Todd mentioned that such an effort would break up families of undocumented parents and children who were U.S.citizens, Trump responded by saying,“But they have to go.” Candidate Trump later doubled down on this idea of mass deportation of undocumented immigrants during his interview with Scott Pelle on CBS’s 60 minutes September 27th, 2015, this time emphasizing that they need to leave and return legally. “If they’ve done well they’re going out and they’re coming back in legally….We’re rounding ’em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way. And they’re going to be happy because they want to be legalized. And, by the way, I know it doesn’t sound nice. But not everything is nice.”
How they would return to their home countries, though, remained unclear. Presumably that would involve U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement officials finding, detaining, processing and then returning undocumented immigrants to their country of origin. How much would that cost U.S. taxpayers?
There are two types of costs associated with this: the administrative cost of this ramped-up enforcement effort and the long-term impact on the U.S. economy of the removal of an estimated 6.8 million workers from the labor force.
Here we focus on the first: the administrative cost.
There are a number of steps that would have to be undertaken to round up and return the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants scattered across U.S. territory—even if done in a humane way. Among them would be: apprehension, detention, judicial processing, and transportation, all with their own cost in terms of manpower, paperwork, care and feeding, and paying for return transportation.
How much would that cost? Ben Gitis and Jacqueline Varas of the American Action Forum estimate that the administrative cost of deportation would vary between $400 to $600 billion dollars over a 20 year period.
Philip E Woglin places the costs a little lower but still at up to $114 billion. Woglin bases the estimate on a per-person cost of $10,070 then applies that to the estimated 11.3 million individuals. He arrives at the per-person costs from a previous Center for American Progress study that looked at the administrative cost of deporting the 5 million individuals covered under an earlier plan by President Barack Obama covered by Obama’s executive action. Indeed, in the 2011 fiscal year the Obama administration deported 396,906. At an average cost of $12,500 per person, total deportation costs ran at almost $5 billion dollars.
Even official estimates place a high price tag on President Trump’s plans. On January 26, 2011 Kumar Kibble, Deputy Director of ICE stated to a Congressional sub-committee that, drawing from Obama’s deportation policies, it costs approximately $12,500 to detain and remove an individual from the United States. If one uses that estimate then it would cost more than $141 billion to execute Trump’s plan.
In short, apart from the costs of tearing apart families and uprooting people from their communities, a comprehensive effort to return the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants would carry a hefty price tag on the public budget.
Next up: the cost on the economy.