Wall Street Journal (Opinion)
March 18, 2016
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz say they’d deport all of the 11.3 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. They don’t say how they would pull off this forced human exodus. But new research shows that executing on this promise would require at least $400 billion in new federal spending and reduce U.S. GDP by about $1 trillion.
A study released this month by the American Action Forum, a free-market think tank led by economist Doug Holtz-Eakin, walks through the process of evicting 11 million people over two years, a time frame Mr. Trump has floated. The report assumes that about 20% of those here illegally would leave voluntarily once the roundups begin. But that still leaves about nine million to find and deport.
This can’t be done with the snap of one’s fingers. In practice and under the law it requires four steps: finding and apprehending individuals, detaining them while they await due process, moving them through the courts, and then transporting them to their home countries.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can now remove at most 400,000 undocumented immigrants a year, most of whom are turned over to the feds by local police after, say, a traffic stop. Ramping up that goal to millions would require 90,000 federal agents, up from today’s 4,000, the study finds. That number would be even higher if the feds conduct most of the raids instead of relying on local law enforcement that lacks the resources for mass sweeps.
After the roundups, where would the arrested millions await their hearings? The feds currently operate about 250 detention facilities with 34,000 beds, and a mere 58 immigration courts. The average detention time is 28.7 days. To keep that same detention time, the report says a two-year deportation plan would require some 348,831 beds, as well as more than 1,300 courts and about 30,000 more federal attorneys. The effort would be a full-employment act for lawyers, and no doubt the House Freedom Caucus would be overjoyed to pay for all of those new federal employees.
Then there’s the task of sending migrants back to their native countries. Only about half of the 11.3 million hail from nearby Mexico, so the U.S. would have to fly millions to Central America, Asia and elsewhere. The report found that the effort would demand the departure, on average, of 84 buses and 47 chartered flights every day for two years. Is the Trump 757 available?
The most important cost, however, would be the blow to the economy from disrupting such a huge chunk of the American workforce. About eight million undocumented immigrants are employed in some way, and the report estimates that deporting them all in two years would shrink the U.S. labor force by 6.4%. That’s a lot of suddenly unfilled jobs. The report estimates that GDP would shrink by 5.7%, not far from the 6.3% decline from the 2008 recession. The new Administration would certainly be off to a rip-roaring start.
Defenders of deportation say state and local governments would save tens of millions on social services for illegals, but that would pale next to the economic and human costs. All of this suggests that deportation would be one more campaign promise that fails once it hits the, er, wall of reality.
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