At her Senate confirmation hearing this week, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Julie Myers reported that it would cost $94 billion to deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. An ICE spokesperson later reported that this figure does not include any costs for apprehension of undocumented immigrants.
While there are no current legislative proposals that call for direct deportation of all undocumented immigrants, the notion of such a mass deportation has been circulating among members of Congress and the conservative press for several years. For example, Congressman Tom Tancredo told the Heritage Foundation in September 2006:
When people say to me, and they do all the time, I hear this constantly—people go up, and tell me, they go, “Hey listen, what are you going to do with all the people who are presently in the country illegally? There’s 15 to 20 million — you can’t deport them.” And then they go on. Right. And I say “Hold it! Why not?”
In response to the nascent arguments for mass deportation, I co-wrote a report for the Center for American Progress more than 2 years ago in which we estimated the cost for apprehending and deporting all undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to be more than $200 billion, with ongoing costs of at least $3 billion per year.
Unlike the ICE figure, our estimate included the substantial costs of apprehension. We estimated that apprehension costs would be about 74% of the total costs of apprehension and deportation. Applying this ratio to the ICE figure, gives a total estimated cost of apprehension and deportation of $362 billion, more than 50% higher than the estimate we produced in 2005! To put these figures in context, the entire 2008 budget request for the Department of Homeland security is $46 billion.
While calculations of this sort are difficult to do, the bottom line remains that apprehension and deportation would be incredibly expensive, whether that total would be $94 billion, $200 billion, or $362 billion. And removing all illegal workers from the economy would also quite likely be disruptive to the U.S. labor market.
That ICE is spending resources estimating a figure that we already estimated two years ago indicates that there is continuing disagreement between the White House and conservative members of Congress on what to do about the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. While the White House favors a path to U.S. citizenship, more conservative members of Congress and conservative think tanks like the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform are pushing for higher levels of enforcement and “voluntary” deportation.