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Center for American Progress: "Deporting the Undocumented"

On July 26, 2005 the Clinton-affiliated think tank Center for American Progress released a study entitled "Deporting the Undocumented: A Cost Assessment":

[The study] provides the first-ever estimate of the costs of a policy designed to deport all undocumented persons currently in the United States and those who successfully crossed the border (approximately 10 million people). Using publicly available data, we estimate the costs of a mass deportation effort to be at least $206 billion over five years ($41.2 billion annually), and could be as high as $230 billion or more. Spending $41.2 billion annually would exceed the entire budget of the Department of Homeland Security for FY 2006 ($34.2 billion) and more than double the annual cost of military operations in Afghanistan ($16.8 billion).

This paper helps illustrate the false allure of deportation as a response to our broken immigration system. Our nation needs comprehensive immigration reform, not unrealistic and costly ideas that drain the Treasury with no benefit to our security.

The study discredits those involved (including CAP and its author, "Senior Domestic Policy Analyst Rajeev Goyle. David A. Jaeger, Ph.D., associate professor of economics at the College of William and Mary, conducted the data analysis") in several ways:

  1. It assumes there are only 10 million illegal aliens here; there are most likely many more.
  2. It assumes that the choice is between mass deportations and an amnesty.
  3. It assumes that it wouldn't be worth it to spend a relatively small amount of money to deport all the illegal aliens here, if that were possible.
  4. They appear to have inflated the cost using highly questionable assumptions.

Regarding #4, see this:

...they estimate that it will cost a whopping $17,603 per apprehension to find one illegal alien. This may seem a little high to anyone who has ever been to Home Depot.

So how was this highly scientific estimate arrived at? By assuming that the current rate of workplace enforcement represents a best effort by the Federal Government. In 2003, they note, a grand total of 445 illegal aliens were arrested at worksites in America. No, you read right, 445 total. This figure is a clear indictment of the current corrupt system, in which the field agents are under orders to enforce the law as little as possible. But the Center for American Progress takes it as an accurate predictor of the efficiency of an earnest future effort.

The cost was then determined as: 445 worksite arrests, divided among the 90 agents involved in these arrests (yes, it apparently took 90 agents one year to find 445 illegal aliens), multiplied by an annual cost of $175,714 per agent. When inexplicably averaged with the figures from the year 1999 (240 agents arresting 2849 illegal aliens at worksites) the accuracy-minded fellows at the Center for American Progress came up with their figure of $17,603 per arrest. Perhaps the Washington Post missed the math part of the report?

The last is a reference to the WaPo article "$41 Billion Cost Projected To Remove Illegal Entrants":

...The study assumed that tougher enforcement would induce 10 percent to 20 percent of undocumented residents in the United States to leave voluntarily. But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates stronger enforcement of immigration laws, argued that as many as half would leave voluntarily if the government were to aggressively seek them out and crack down on businesses that hire them illegally.

"We do need to know what enforcement would cost," he said, "but [the study] is a cartoon version of how enforcement would work."

The study estimates that it would cost about $28 billion per year to apprehend illegal immigrants, $6 billion a year to detain them, $500 million for extra beds, $4 billion to secure borders, $2 million to legally process them and $1.6 billion to bus or fly them home.

Goyle said that he conducted the study, in part, to respond to conservative officials who have advocated mass deportations, in some cases immediately. Earlier this year, former House speaker Newt Gingrich advocated sealing U.S. borders and deporting all illegal immigrants within 72 hours of arrest.

Unlike the Washington Post, the reader will no doubt have noted that there's a difference between deporting all new detainees and deporting all illegal aliens who are here now.

Will Adams, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), an outspoken advocate of stronger immigration laws, called the study an "an interesting intellectual exercise" by liberals that is "useless . . . because no one's talking about" employing mass deportation as a tactic.

"No one's talking about buying planes, trains and automobiles to get them out of the country," Adams said. "The vast number of illegal immigrants are coming for jobs. Congressman Tancredo wants to go after the employers."