The cost of illegal immigration to taxpayers is growing at an unsustainable pace
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The total cost of illegal immigration to federal, state and local taxpayers for the nation’s 12.5 million illegal aliens has increased to $116 billion annually, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The study, one of the most comprehensive to date on the issue, investigates the major contributing factors driving the high cost of illegal immigration, and compares that to the revenue state and local governments collect from illegal aliens.

The findings paint a much different picture than what open-border proponents and many in the mainstream media try to portray — that illegal immigration is somehow a net positive to the United States economy.

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FAIR found that while illegal immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes every year, they ultimately cost taxpayers more than seven times what they contribute. The study found that illegal immigrants pay almost $19 billion annually in combined federal, state and local taxes. This estimate is actually considerably higher than what many studies before this have suggested. However, the amount of taxes illegal immigrants pay is dwarfed by the considerable costs that they impose on American taxpayers: nearly $135 billion annually, creating a net deficit of $116 billion.

The majority of the costs to taxpayers, $89 billion (66 percent), are borne at the local and state level. This means that American taxpayers are forced to bear the costs of the federal government’s failure to secure our borders every time they pay school taxes, local tolls, sales and excise taxes. It also means that illegal migrants get a lot of benefits that they don’t pay for.

Conversely, by a 5-to-1 ratio, the taxes paid by illegal immigrants wind up in federal coffers. Despite states bearing most of the costs associated with illegal immigration, the federal government receives 15.4 billion of their tax receipts, compared to $3.5 billion received by states and localities.

When states offer financial support to illegal immigrants, and protect them from the federal immigration enforcement efforts, it’s the law-abiding residents who suffer the financial consequences. New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois and Virginia are all far from the southern border, yet they are still popular destinations for illegal immigrants because welfare programs are easily available, even to those unlawfully in the United States. New York, New Jersey, and northern Virginia have all been leaders in the sanctuary movement. Illinois and Maryland have gone so far as to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, and even vote in some local elections.

The state and local costs of illegal migration are amplified by the fact that illegal immigrants remit much of their earnings to their home nations. FAIR estimates that nearly 20 percent of the average household income of illegal immigrants is remitted back to their home nations. Annually, this totals approximately $7,200 per illegal immigrant household that is not spent in the United States, and therefore is not subject to the sales or excise taxes that fund state treasuries.

These findings soundly refute the argument that the presence of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is justified because they pay taxes. The truth is that, in addition to violating American immigration law, illegal immigrants pay only a fraction of the costs for the services they consume. Law abiding taxpayers are stuck footing the vast majority of the fiscal burden created by their actions. It’s time for the federal government to end the financial incentives that attract illegal immigrants to the United States — in particular, welfare programs and refundable tax credits.

FAIR also offers an updated estimation of the number of illegal immigrants in the United States, pegging it at 12.5 million. This is based on the same criteria used by other credible research organizations like Pew Research. However, for ideological reasons, Pew leaves out illegal immigrants who are beneficiaries of programs like Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood of Arrivals. Failing to count these individuals falsely suggests there are fewer illegal immigrants in the country today than in the past and inappropriately lowers the costs associated with the illegal immigrant cohort.

This study confirms what we already know — that the cost of incentivized illegal immigration is unsustainably high, and continues to grow at an alarming rate. President Trump won the 2016 presidential election with a platform that championed true immigration reform. Americans are tired of losing billions of dollars every year due to illegal immigration. Ending the incentives that attract illegal immigrants and securing the border are necessary first steps to reversing the growing costs associated with unlawful migration. 

Raley is a research associate at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).