Perhaps one of the most divisive and controversial issues that our country currently faces is illegal immigration and its implications. Instead of reasoned dialogue, it seems as though both sides have resorted to mindlessly parroting aphoristic phrases such as “love trumps hate” or “build the wall”. The gravity of this issue cannot be overstated, and superficially witty remarks will not do the job in capturing the complexity behind it. Upon examining the economic ramifications of illegal immigration and how they compare to the border wall, crime and drugs, and much more, one is forced to conclude that illegal immigration is a pressing threat that affects every single American. About 11 million illegal immigrants reside in the United States presently, and dealing with both present and future immigrants is of paramount significance.
The Economic Cost
One of the most frequently cited reports is a Federation for American Immigration Reform report which examined the annual cost of illegal immigration. According to the report, illegal immigration costs United States taxpayers roughly $113 billion at the federal, state, and local levels. The vast majority of that lofty sum—about $84 billion— plagues state and local governments. Among other things, the report also found that the single largest cost incurred as a result of illegal immigration was that of eduction for the children of illegal immigrants, with the number at a staggering $52 billion.
However, these estimates have been met with criticism. Politifact conducted an extensive review of this report along with various other reports, finding this one to be suspect while underscoring other, lower estimates. Firstly, as the article argues, FAIR’s results stem from inexact estimates and assumptions. It boasts a good deal of inaccuracies, including taking data from private hospitals, using anecdotal estimates, and more. In short, Politifact emphasized that “It’s difficult to determine exact costs of a population for which only estimates are available”, and that this report based many (but not all) of its conclusions on incorrect or partially suspect methodology.
More importantly, Politifact emphasized that other, lower estimates are available. According to a Heritage Foundation report, households led by undocumented immigrants received about $85 billion a year in benefits in 2010. Recent non-partisan reports are scarce, however.
In 1992, an economics professor, according to U.S. General Accounting Office, found that the net cost to federal, state, and local governments was actually $11.9 billion. In a separate exercise conducted in 1994, professor Donald Huddle estimated the net costs to be between $16 billion and $21.6 billion. Other reports have been inconclusive.
In short, pinpointing the exact net cost of illegal immigration is difficult and is wholly contingent upon methodology. Different figures are produced depending on the source. However, one thing is certain: illegal immigration comes with costs that are very likely in the billions of dollars. Thus, it burdens taxpayers and the country overall, and can therefore be ruled detrimental.
Reassuringly, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) writes that “if a border wall stopped a small fraction of the illegal immigrants who are expected to come in the next decade, the fiscal savings from having fewer illegal immigrants in the country would be sufficient to cover the costs of the wall.” The analysis examined the expected level of education of illegal immigrants and applied economic and fiscal estimates developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) for immigrants by level of education.
Calculated through taking taxes paid and subtracting costs incurred, based on the NAS data, “illegal border-crossers create an average fiscal burden of approximately $74,722 during their lifetimes, excluding any costs for their U.S.-born children.” The border wall would only need to prevent roughly 9 to 12 percent of illegal immigrants expected to cross in the next decade, which translates to between about 160,000-200,000 illegal border-crossers, in order for the fiscal savings to equalize the $12 to $15 billion estimated cost of the wall. It is worth noting that with adequate border security, this percentage will almost undoubtedly be higher.
Konstantin Kakses, writing in the MIT Technical Journal, affirms that the cost of the wall depends on various factors, including height, length below ground, and distance. A 30 feet tall wall with 10 feet below ground that spans 1,000 miles would cost upwards of $31.2 billion. Adjusting these factors results in different calculations. The lowest estimates are between $12 and $13 billion with the highest being around $40 billion.
Drugs and Crime
Incarceration estimates for 2014 found that 2,007,502 natives, 122,939 illegal immigrants, and 63,994 legal immigrants were incarcerated in 2014, as reported by the CATO Institute. This translated to incarceration rates, showing 1.53 percent for natives, 0.85 percent for illegal immigrants, and 0.47 percent for legal immigrants. However, this is not the sole measure for crime, and to ignore other measures would be an injustice.
According to data from the United States Sentencing Commission, as the Washington Examiner reports, roughly 2,200 people received federal sentences for drug possession in the 2014 fiscal year, and of those, nearly three-quarters of them were illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigrants also accounted for 25,670 (37%) of 70,225 individuals convicted of all federal crimes in the 12 months through September 2015. In 2013, this number equated to 38.6 percent of all federal sentencing. In short, it conclusively exemplified that the illegal population majorly contributes to federal crimes in the United States.
According to the same Washington Examiner article, “But the sentencing of illegal immigrants for drug possession jumped significantly. In 2013, 1,123 illegal immigrants were sentenced on convictions of simple possession, and made up 55.8 percent of those cases. In 2014, 1,681 illegal aliens were sentenced, and they made up 74.1 percent of the total. Illegal immigrants were also 16.9 percent of all federal drug trafficking sentences.”
Furthermore, those here illegally constituted 20 percent of the sentences regarding kidnapping/hostage taking in 2014, 12 percent of the murder sentences, and over 19 percent of sentences dealing with national defense matters. Comparatively, illegal immigrants living here comprise roughly 3.4 percent of the population. To make matters worse, the aforementioned commission’s statistics “only include primary federal offenses, and don’t include local convictions or sentences, which is where most rape and murder cases would appear” (Washington Examiner).
A Department of Justice report found similarly disconcerting statistics. As explained by Judicial Watch, “Of the 61,529 criminal cases initiated by federal prosecutors last fiscal year, more than 40%—or 24,746—were filed in court districts neighboring the Mexican border. This includes Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Western Texas and Southern Texas. The two Texas districts each had more than double the convictions of all four federal court districts in the state of New York combined, according to the DOJ report. The Western Texas District had the nation’s heaviest crime flow, with 6,341 cases filed by the feds. In Southern Texas 6,130 cases were filed, 4,848 in Southern California, 3,889 in New Mexico and 3,538 in Arizona.”
Unsurprisingly, the majority of these were related to immigration, however drugs, homicide, theft, and much more are included. The key is that year after year, our nation’s southern border regions have a notoriously high crime rate compared to the rest of the United States.
One lawyer in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, named Peter Kirsanow, desired to quantify and compare “the number of illegals and non-illegals imprisoned for murder-related offenses in a 2015 National Review piece” (The Daily Wire). To accomplish this, he scrutinized statistics from the Government Accountability Office and Pew Research Center.
According to his findings, “There were 68.57 illegal aliens imprisoned for every 100,000 illegals in Arizona, compared to 54.06 citizens and legal noncitizens imprisoned for every 100,000 citizens and legal noncitizens… 97.2 illegals imprisoned for every 100,000 illegals in California, compared to 74.1 citizens and legal noncitizens imprisoned per 100,000 citizen and legal noncitizens… [and] 168.75 illegals imprisoned for every 100,000 illegals in New York, compared to 48.12 legal immigrants imprisoned for every 100,000 legal immigrants” (The Daily Wire).
The numbers for Florida and Texas were closer when comparing illegal and legal immigrants, with legal immigrants edging out in both cases. While this is not a perfect measurement, it does underscore crucial points regarding illegal immigrants and crime. One of the more worrying facts, according to Kirsanow, was that “approximately 2,430 illegal aliens are in prison just for homicide-related offenses” in California alone (The Daily Wire).
Along with illegal immigration come worries relating to gangs and drugs. Washington Times writes, “Analysts in gang intervention say scores of recently arrived Central American children make prime recruiting targets for established gangs in the region.” In 2005 alone, federal investigators affirm that upwards of 2.2 million kilograms of cocaine and 11.6 million kilograms of marijuana were illegally brought into into the United States through the southern border. Not only that, but rising numbers of human trafficking (such as prostitution) and human smuggling have been associated with Mexican cartels (“Illegal Immigration: Drugs, Gangs, and Crime”).
Policy and Proposed Solutions
To paraphrase Prager University, two critical conditions must be met with immigration policies. First, it is imperative that we, as a country, regain control of our borders so that we are the ones deciding who enters. The second is to find an effective, sensible, and humane way to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants who currently reside in the United States. We cannot, should not, and will not deport all 11 million people for various reasons. It would irrefutably be impractical, inhumane, time-consuming, and economically burdensome. Of course, we are then faced with two options. Do we ignore them? Or should we figure out a way to legalize them?
I contend it is intuitively obvious that ignoring and disregarding them would be the wrong course of action. As of yet, it hasn’t worked in the slightest bit. However, legalization (amnesty) creates a similarly undesirable situation: an irresistible incentive emerges for new, illegal immigrants to cross the border. The Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform in 1986, implemented with little enforcement, permitted almost 3 million people to gain permanent residency. As previously mentioned, we are now faced with the 11 million illegal immigrants. Ironically, there is a solution, a workable one, one that has severely demarcated our country.
The solution is to radically reduce new (i.e. future) illegal immigration. Construct a barrier, a wall, a fence (terminology doesn’t matter, the solution does). Increase surveillance with cameras and sensors, and perhaps even drones if necessary. Employ more border patrol. In short, the solution is for the United States to regain control of its own borders. All throughout history and throughout the world, fences and walls have repeatedly been vindicated in their efforts to prevent and radically reduce illegal immigration. They work. The triple fence outside San Diego led to a 90% reduction in infiltration, and Israel’s West Bank border fence produced a similar decline. Countries such as Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, Greece, Spain, and even Norway have all either constructed or are in the process of constructing border fences to reduce the tide of Middle Eastern refugees. France and England have dealt with the devastating effects of little border control and immigration policy, while other countries, such as Poland (which has one of the strictest immigration policies in Europe) have seen tremendous success.
The next step is to enforce two other measures. A national E-verify system which makes it difficult to work anywhere if you’re here illegally, and an effective and functioning visa tracking system, since upwards of 40% of illegal immigrants are visa overstays. Reducing illegal immigration is our goal, as it introduces drugs, crime, and economically burdens the American people and those here legally. This costs our country billions of dollars. If this is truly our goal, then improving the visa system is absolutely imperative.
One might object on the basis of being ugly and inhumane, but apply that logic to the concrete barriers protecting the White House from deadly truck or bomb attacks, and this logic’s absurdity manifests itself. Function must supersede form. This isn’t a Berlin Wall. Building walls to forcibly keep people in is a prison, while keeping people out is an expression of protection and sovereignty. This won’t be entirely perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. All it needs to do is reduce illegal immigration to a manageable trickle. This wall will even allow more focus to be placed on current illegal immigrants in a sensible, humane, and practical way. To claim all of this cannot be done is to ignore history, the rest of the world, and the United State’s power, ability, and prowess.
Legalizing the 11 million while deporting the known violent and drug-related criminals, and giving the others the right to stay and work here is the most sensible and workable solution. It is important to note that this is not citizenship. No one should get the privilege of joining and affecting the political destiny of the country by entering it illegally. Of course, children born here will be American citizens, allowing time to resolve the issue. The price we have paid for immigration will no longer be paid after implementing radical border control followed by legalization. E-verify and visa tracking along with a border wall will drastically ameliorate our situation, and it is undeniably the most practical, sensible, humane, and economically sound solution for both the American people and the 11 million here illegally. If we do this right, it will preserve America for future generations, and it we will set a tremendous precedent for other countries.
However, others disagree. Some contend that illegal immigrants are so economically burdensome that the best solution is to deport as many as possible in addition to constructing a wall. As reported by Pew Research Center, “The U.S. civilian workforce includes 8 million unauthorized immigrants, accounting for 5% of those who were working or were unemployed and looking for work”.
Any policy allowing illegal immigrants to have permanent access to US jobs makes little to no sense because this would preclude current U.S. Citizens from getting jobs.
“Not only can illegal immigration limit US workers’ job opportunities, but it can affect their income as well. Illegal immigrants are often paid less than their legal counterparts, leading not only to exploitation, but a lowering of wages and working conditions for everyone. Many companies that hire only legal workers are forced to compete with companies that undercut prices by hiring illegal workers, threatening to force the responsible company out of business” (“The High Cost of Illegal Immigration“).
The video continues, arguing that illegal immigrants benefit from our tax dollars, emphasizing “Expenditures like educating children, medical care, administration of justice, child care, temporary assistance to needy families, and school meal programs all end up benefiting illegal aliens”.
Amnesty incentives further illegal immigration. According to those who argue for this line of thought, our government and its policy makers should send a clear message to the rest of the world and to illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States that we will not tolerate this law-breaking. The deportation of as many illegal aliens as possible will not only improve and bolster national security, but also attack a chief economic burden. It will provide more jobs and greater opportunities to the unemployed and underemployed American citizens and legal residents.
A last point made by those in this camp is that illegal aliens can put a financial burden on local and federal law enforcement. Additionally, immigrants on average tend to have larger families than those in the U.S., and this difference can strain the resources of local school districts and taxpayers.
In the end, there are opposing views regarding the solution, but one thing is certain: there is unambiguously a problem that necessitates our attention, dedication, and deliberation. If we want our country to flourish, then we must put aside our differences, quit mindlessly parroting terse phrases, and engage in serious dialogue regarding pressing issues. The most important thing to do, however, is take action.
Author: Joseph Schmid
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