It'll Cost Over $45,000 to Keep Out Each New Unauthorized Immigrant

Niraj Chokshi

When the Senate passed an expensive border-security measure two weeks ago, the fate of immigration reform in that chamber was all but sealed. The amendment made the overhaul easier to swallow for some Senate Republicans, paving the way for its passage last week. But the added measures also mean the government won't be saving as much money as first thought, according to a new Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Over the next decade, the heightened security will prevent 800,000 unauthorized immigrants from crossing the border at a cost of $36.6 billion, according to the nonpartisan CBO. In other words, the government will spend $45,750 on keeping each immigrant out.

The border-security measures were crucial to getting immigration reform through the Senate, making it easier for Republicans to back a bill some conservatives criticized for being too lenient toward unauthorized immigrants. But the amendment also eats into expected savings. CBO revised downward the bill's deficit-reduction estimates for the next decade from $197 billion to $158 billion. And the $700 billion in deficit reduction for the decade after that—from 2024 to 2033—fell to $685 billion.

While the government would save money on safety-net spending, it also kisses goodbye $3.2 billion in revenue over the next decade, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

"[T]he small savings for Medicaid, child nutrition, and refundable tax credits would be more than offset by a slightly larger reduction in revenues paid by, or on behalf of, unauthorized residents," CBO reported.

Here's how we explained it when CBO first estimated the costs of immigration reform:

It might seem counterintuitive to some that by taking on a slew of new immigrants, some of them low-skilled, the government would save money, but there may be a simple reason—demographics. Between 2002 and 2009, citizen and noncitizen immigrants contributed $115 billion more to Medicare than they used, according to a recent study in Health Affairs, the reputable health policy journal. U.S.-born citizens, meanwhile, used $28 billion more than they contributed.

In other words, as baby boomers retire and increasingly rely on government benefits, new younger immigrants will provide added revenue through taxes, studies suggest.