Cost Of A Broken System: U.S. Spent More On Immigration Than All Other Federal Enforcement Agencies Combined

During the 2012 fiscal year, the federal government spent more on immigration enforcement — $18 billion — than on every other federal law enforcement agencies combined, according to a new report from the Migration Policy Institute. The spending on Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection dwarfs the combined $14.4 billion spent on the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Secret Service.

The U.S. has spent more than $187 billion on immigration enforcement since President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 — which first made it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers along with strengthening U.S. border security. Adjusted for inflation, the U.S. now spends 15 times as much on immigration enforcement as it did in the mid-1980s. And the number of deportations and immigration-related prosecutions has also jumped along with the increased spending:

The Migration Policy Institute found that ICE and CBP also refer more cases to prosecution than those other agencies combined, and the immigration agencies also held more individuals in fiscal year 2011 than the federal Bureau of Prisons. […]

At the same time, deportations have exploded. The U.S. deported about 30,000 people in the 1990 fiscal year; in the 2012 fiscal year, it removed a record 409,894. A majority of those people were deported without an order from an immigration judge, instead using DHS’ discretion, the Migration Policy Institute found.

President Obama has taken steps to try to limit deportations that separate families living in the U.S., but as the MPI report highlights, officials are not using the discretionary policies available. In addition to a new rule announced last week that allows undocumented immigrants who can prove that time away from a parent, spouse or child will cause “extreme hardship” to return to the United States while they apply for legal status, the deferred action measure announced last summer has already succeeded in temporarily blocking deportation of more than 4,500 immigrants, with some 150,000 other applications pending.


But the high costs and increasing number of deportations continue to show exactly why Congress needs to address comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. With comprehensive reform that provides a path to citizenship, the U.S. would see a cumulative $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product — the largest measure of economic growth — over 10 years in addition to $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue over just three years if the 11 million undocumented immigrants were legalized.