President Donald Trump’s border wall only needs to stop about 10 percent of illegal crossing in order to pay for itself, according to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies.
The estimated $12 to $15 billion cost of the wall would quickly be offset by the savings to the government if fewer illegal immigrants arrive in the country over the next decade, CIS found. Only a small portion of the population of people who are expected to attempt an illegal crossing in the next decade — between 9 and 12 percent — would have to be stopped for the wall to totally pay for itself.
The analysis from CIS, a group that advocates for moderating immigration levels, relies on fiscal estimates from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) for the average cost to taxpayers of illegal immigrants. NAS estimates one illegal immigrant costs state and local governments approximately $75,000 in a lifetime, taking into account taxes paid and the cost of providing benefits such as education and health care.
If Trump’s border wall stopped between 160,000 and 200,000 people from entering the country illegally, CIS finds, the savings would offset the expected cost of the wall.
Estimates on the cost of the wall have ranged from as low as $8 billion to as high as $20 billion. Opponents of its construction argue the wall will not be effective in stopping all immigrants, and use that argument in conjunction with the price tag to assert building the wall is a waste of resources. While CIS finds it would quickly pay for itself, the analysis does note most of the fiscal burden for illegal immigrants falls on state and local governments, while the cost of the wall will fall on the federal government.
Nevertheless, the cost estimates are somewhat conservative, as they do not take into account the cost to the government of the children of illegal immigrants. If those costs are included as estimated by NAS, the fiscal drain increases to about $95,000 per illegal immigrant. CIS also notes the wall could save taxpayers nearly $64 billion over the next decade if half of the crossings are stopped — more than three times the expected cost of the wall.
Trump was able to order construction of a substantial wall on the Mexico border shortly after taking office, because of a 2006 law passed with the help of Democrats — including then-Sens. Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. The law authorized the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border, as well as additional lights, cameras and sensors to enhance security.
Although former President George W. Bush signed the measure into law, the Democrat-controlled Congress that took over a few months later ensured it would never be completed by means of an amendment to a 2008 spending bill.
The amendment removed an explicit requirement the wall be made of double-layer fencing, and gave the Department of Homeland Security authority to put in place less effective barriers, such as simple vehicle barriers that do not keep pedestrians out. As a result, Democrats were able to avoid a politically unpopular vote against the wall, and then turn around and quietly gut its construction. But Trump and Republicans in Congress are now using that law to ensure a proper wall is constructed.
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