The cost of amnesty: $999 billion.
The cost of attrition by enforcement: as little as $14 billion.
Amnesty would cost up to 70 times as much as enforcing existing law.
$999 billion cost of Amnesty (Mass Legalization)
Source: The Heritage Foundation
Summary: The Heritage Foundation issued two studies in 2007 pointing out that the big problem with mass legalization is that (a) most illegal aliens are low-skilled and therefore do not earn enough money to pay enough taxes to cover the government benefits they receive; and (b), amnesty would eventually make them eligible for the full array of welfare and medical benefits offered by local, state and federal governments. They found the cost of allowing illegal aliens to remain in the United States, and eventually to become citizens, would be $3.7 trillion through the year 2056. That works out to a present cost of $1 trillion, at a 5 percent discount rate. In other words, immediately upon passage of an amnesty bill, the United States government would need to put $1 trillion into an investment earning 5 percent per year if it were honest about paying for the costs of amnesty.
$14 billion cost of attrition through enforcement option #1.
Source: Congressional Budget office Estimate for H.R. 4437.
Summary: This option is the bill H.R. 4437 sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner that passed the House of Representatives in 2005. This bill would have been so effective in combating illegal immigration that some 1 million illegal aliens marched in cities around the United States on May 1, 2006 to protest it. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would cost $1.9 billion over the 5 years 2006-2010, which we extrapolate out to the year 2056 using a linear model to account for cost increases. Then we use a discount rate of 5 percent to bring the future costs back to a single present cost figure. The resulting cost was actually $13.5 billion, which we round up to $14 billion to facilitate comparison to the other cost figures.
$177 billion cost of attrition through enforcement option #2.
Source: Congressional Budget Office Estimate for H.R. 4088.
Summary: This option is the SAVE Act (Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act) that was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2007. This is a strong attrition through enforcement bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would cost $40.7 billion over the 10 years 2009-2018, which we extrapolate out to the year 2056 using a linear model to account for cost increases. Then we use a discount rate of 5 percent to bring the future costs back to a single present cost figure.
Amnesty Would Have a Present Cost of $1 Trillion
In 2007, the Heritage Foundation issued two studies, one on the cost of low-skilled immigration and one on the cost of amnesty. The study on the cost of low-skilled immigration noted that low-skilled immigrants do work hard: “It is important to note, these families are rarely idle; they consistently work and pay taxes. However, the taxes they pay are seldom, if ever, sufficient to cover the cost of the government benefits they receive. In consequence, these households must be continually subsidized by other taxpayers.” The Heritage study concluded that low-skilled immigrant households will cost native born U.S. taxpayers $89.1 billion per year over each of the next 30 years.
The Heritage report estimated that illegal residents comprise 41 percent of low-skilled immigrant households.1 Simple multiplication indicates that illegal-immigrant households cost the U.S. taxpayer $36.5 billion each year. Over 30 years, that works out to $1.1 trillion in costs. Using a financial calculator, we assumed a discount rate of 5 percent, and computed the net present value of a cost stream of $36.5 over the next 30 years to be $589 billion.
Cost to Taxpayer for Government Benefits to Illegal Aliens:
|Years||Cost Each Year||Total Cost||Present Cost @ 5% discount rate|
|2007-2037||$36.5 billion||$1.1 trillion||$589 billion|
|2038-2056||$144.5 billion||$2.6 trillion||$410 billion|
A second report was issued by the Heritage Foundation a few weeks after the report discussed above. This report discussed the costs allowing current illegal aliens to become United States citizens. They will become eligible for the full array of welfare and medical benefits offered by state and federal governments. This study concluded that the $36.5 billion per year figure is valid for the next 30 years. The average age of an illegal alien is early 30s. Beginning 30 years from now, the current illegal alien population will retire. The problem is that low-skilled illegal aliens do not earn enough money to support their families, send remittances back to their homelands, and save adequate money for retirement. The U.S. taxpayer will be stuck supporting most illegal aliens in retirement. And each retired illegal alien is projected to cost the U.S. taxpayer $17,000 per year.
The Heritage report continues, that of the 10 million retired illegal aliens, some 8.5 million will live to the retirement age of 67 years old. At that time, the statistically normal lifespan is an additional 18 years. $17,000 per year for 18 years is $306,000. That is the cost of supporting one amnestied illegal alien through retirement. Multiplied by 8.5 million people, and that comes to the astounding figure of $2.6 trillion.2 Using a financial calculator, we assumed a discount rate of 5 percent and computed the net present value of a cost stream of $144.5 billion per year for 18 years from the years 2039-2057. The net present cost was given as $410 billion.
Attrition Through Enforcement Would Have a Present Cost of as Little at $13.5 Billion
H.R. 4437, The “Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005,” had Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner as its original sponsor. This bill had several features to combat illegal immigration including:
- mandatory E-Verify 6 years from date of enactment
- end the “catch-and-release” policy for all persons apprehended at border
- require DHS to reimburse counties within 25 miles of the border for the costs relating to illegal aliens
- removal orders would become final more quickly and readily
- facilitate removal of aliens who reenter the country illegally after having been deported
- mandatory minimum prison sentences for offenses related to illegal entry into the United States
- additional port-of-entry inspectors and canine detection teams
This was the bill to which Sensenbrenner offered an amendment to reduce the penalty for illegal presence (aimed at visa overstayers) from a felony to a misdemeanor (Amendment 656, Roll Call Vote 655).3 However, all but 8 Democrats voted against the amendment (in other words, they voted for upgrading illegal presence to a felony) because they wanted to use the provision as a rallying point from which to stir up opposition to the bill.
The passage of this bill attracted a firestorm of opposition from the open borders lobby, including illegal alien demonstrations in a number of cities on May 1, 2006.
The illegal alien lobby was opposed to this bill because it would have been effective. This is why we can safely conclude that effective attrition through enforcement would cost as little as $13.5 billion.4
Strong Attrition Through Enforcement Would Have a Present Cost of $177 Billion
The SAVE Act (Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement) Act was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on November 6, 2007. It never made it to a vote because the House leadership would not allow it. Among the key provisions of the bill were:
- mandatory E-Verify 4 years from the date of enactment;
- increased employer sanctions for those knowingly employing illegal aliens;
- a "National Birth and Death Registration System" to reduce stolen identities;
- 140 additional Criminal Alien Program (CAP) officers to identify and remove criminal aliens detained in federal, state and local facilities;
- training at least 250 state and local law enforcement officers on how to perform federal immigration enforcement procedures;
- 8,000 additional beds for illegal aliens detained by immigration officials;
- 13 additional federal district judges in border states to increase the flow of deportations, including 4 for the District of Arizona and 5 for the Southern District of California;
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would cost $40.7 billion over the 10 years between 2009-2018.5
1Robert E. Rector and Christine Kim, The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer, Special Report #14, May 22, 2007, The Heritage Foundation.
2Robert E. Rector, Amnesty Will Cost U.S. Taxpayers At Least $2.6 Trillion, Web Memo #1490, June 6, 2007, The Heritage Foundation.
3See The Congressional Record – House – December 16, 2005, H11951-11953.