The Real Cost of Immigration

The past year has seen an unprecedented backlash against undocumented immigrants. Proposed measures targeting them include Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which inspired other states to follow suit with similar bills that would allow local police to enforce immigration laws; conservatives have called for a repeal of the 14th amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States, regardless of their parents’ status; and still others are calling for a return to massive workplace raids.

Embracing the proposed measures helped many conservatives win in November’s midterm elections, but as state legislatures get down to business in their new sessions, they are grappling with the reality of the economic cost of these policies. Here’s what we found.

Enforcement of Arizona’s SB 1070 and copycat laws:

No fewer than 15 states are considering laws to allow police officers to ask for proof of citizenship during traffic stops and other types of contact (Arizona’s law is on hold pending court appeals). Furthest along in the process is Mississippi, which passed versions of the bill in the state house and Senate in late January. But at least one state has effectively abandoned its own bill, citing costs including citizenship checks, detention and lawsuits: Colorado. Utah is revising its own bill, also due to cost. According to the state legislature’s own fiscal analysis, it would cost between $5 million and $11 million per year for local governments, with the state incurring about another $1 million. That’s nothing compared to Kentucky's price tag. According to the state’s own Legislative Research Commission, costs would total $89 million a year. Communities that have been enforcing their own immigration laws for years are draining their coffers doing do. According to a report by the Center for American Progress the Dallas suburb of Farmer’s Branch, Texas has spent about $5 million since 2006 in legal fees to defend an ordinance that bans landlords from renting to illegals.

Workplace raids:

Raids to round up undocumented workers in large food processing and manufacturing plants have dropped about 70 percent since 2008. The Obama administration has focused instead on quadrupling deportations, targeting mainly those with serious criminal records. The newly empowered House Republican majority, however, say that’s not enough, and is seeking to make raids a priority again. The price: $10 million plus for the large-scale raids conducted in 2007 and 2008, according to a Los Angeles Times report quoting a government source. The cost per deportation: $12,500.

Repealing the 14th Amendment:

According to a Pew Hispanic Center report on undocumented immigration released this year, there are 4.5 million kids who were born to undocumented parents in the country, making them U.S. citizens. The average cost of a single deportation is $12,500. If those kids were to be deported, it would cost the government $56,250,000,000.