Preventing illegals from entering the US is a single concern, and I think it is a valid one. There is an entirely different matter which is whether or not we should deport the illegals which have already arrived. This article argues that we shouldn’t deport illegal immigrants for at least three reasons. First, illegals produce more economic benefit than they cost. Second, deportation itself is massively costly. Finally, illegal immigration is a means by which the private sector of the economy can grow at a faster rate compared to the public sector.
I. Illegals Create More Benefit Than Cost
The Federation for American Immigration Reform is a non-profit group that advocates reducing both legal and illegal immigration. Their bias is against immigration, so they should tend to overstate the costs of immigration. They estimate the costs of illegal immigration to be about $113 billion in terms of public services and so on. They note that illegal immigrants sometimes but rarely file tax returns, and they also pay in through sales taxes and other means. This results in about $13 billion of taxes paid by immigrants.
Their analysis indicates a net cost of about $100 billion to the public sector. This is true, but it ignores the benefits illegals bring to the private sector. UCLA research indicates that consumption from illegal immigration amounts to $150 billion annually. Admittedly, UCLA likely has a bias in favor of additional immigration, but I can’t find any lower numbers. Cato allegedly valued the number up to $250 billion.
So looking only at taxes, illegals cost more than they get in benefits, but that’s not the whole picture. Including benefits to the private sector, illegals contribute net about $50 billion or perhaps more. This result is consistent with basic supply and demand which tells us that more consumers and workers benefits the overall economy, lowering prices and creating jobs.
II. Deportation Is Really Expensive
A Google search for “cost of deportation” at 7:30 PM on 2/12/17 produced the captured image at the right. Click it to enlarge it. The lowest figure given for a mass deportation effort is about $114 billion for the deportation of 11.3 million illegal immigrants. Here’s a few key points:
- $114 billion is more than the entire annual cost of illegal immigration, as previously discussed.
- No one knows how many illegal immigrants there are. There are almost certainly far more than 11.3 million illegal immigrants. In 2006 some of the best research was already putting the figure realistically at 11.5 – 12 million, and possibly as many as 20 million. The number has gone up since then.
- Deporting illegal immigrants probably has increasing marginal cost, since the supply of anything usually has increasing marginal cost (source, source, and source). So if the true number of illegal immigrants is more than 11.3 million, and it is, then the true cost of mass deportation will be non-linearly larger than $114 billion.
III. Illegals Weaken Government Power
In Section I we discussed that illegals are a net drain on the public sector, but they are also such a huge gain to the private sector that it more than outweighs that drain. Another way to think about this is to think of the whole economy as a pie chart where some percentage is the private sector and some percentage is the public sector.
If you take away illegal immigration then the public sector has a bigger piece of the pie. I don’t know any conservative who likes that idea. We want government to be smaller and the market to be bigger, right? The more of the economy that government controls, the idea goes, the slower the whole economy will grow over time. Illegals actually help out with that.
Illegals don’t make a huge swing in the actual number of the public vs private composition. The US GDP is about $17.9 trillion per year. $3.7 trillion of that was public spending in 2015. Illegal consumption is responsible for about $150 billion of that as previously discussed, or about $ .15 trillion, making it about .84%. With the consumption of illegals the economy is 3.7/17.9 = 20.67% public. Without that consumption it becomes 3.7/17.75 = 20.85%.
IV. What About Future Illegal Immigration?
There are at least three things to consider when it comes to policy-making. The first is the economic impact, and I think I’ve shown that illegal immigration is a net positive from that point of view. The second part is the moral question. We don’t want to be passing immoral laws.
Doing stuff that is illegal is generally immoral, based on the Christian worldview, except possibly when a law is explicitly immoral. I don’t think immigration control is explicitly immoral, so illegal immigration is in some sense immoral. It’s even worse when you realize that the legal immigrants are sometimes waiting 10 years to get in, and they are in some sense cheated by the illegal immigrants that “skip the line” to use an image from middle school.
You know what else is immoral? Putting your family into danger of poverty or harm from vicious Mexican drug cartels. One thing I always like to do is to put myself in the other person’s shoes. If I was in Mexico I would definitely try to come to the US, and I wouldn’t wait on a 10 year waiting list to do it.
So we can kind of see both sides. I say there’s an easy way to get the best of both worlds: Make legal immigration easier. Maybe even go for unrestricted immigration. Then it’s not immoral to have
illegal immigration because there’s no such thing. As many Americans point out, that’s how it used to be back in American history. We are a country descended from immigrants. If you want to keep some restrictions then on the one hand I don’t see any evidence that you have a good idea, but on the other hand I’ll compromise with you because it’s better than what we have. I wouldn’t wait on a 10 year list but maybe a 2 or 3 year list if I wasn’t in extreme or immediate danger. At the same time, if I was in immediate or extreme danger, I still wouldn’t wait that long. We as Americans are basically forcing some people into harm’s way with even a small wait list to get in.
I did say there are at least three things to consider. The third things is the size of government control. In general, we as conservatives should be supporting smaller government, less taxes, more free markets, and more freedom. This is totally consistent with unrestricted immigration, not with heavily restricted immigration. So overall, I say let the immigrants in. Illegal immigrants already give us an economic benefit, but legal immigrants give us an even larger benefit. Why not have more of both?