Below is a letter I sent a month ago to Eduardo Porter, a New York Times journalist, who has written about the American economy and the effect our undocumented workers have upon it:
Dear Mr. Porter:
A number of years ago you wrote a NYT piece that struck me forcefully–so much so, I haven’t forgotten and still tell people about it.
You wrote about undocumented workers in the U.S. and how many billions of dollars a year they contributed to Social Security without ever being able to receive benefits from their contributions.
Given the current xenophobia roused by Trump, I beg you to write again about this, but now to calculate how much mass deportation could annually diminish the Social Security fund.
And since the GOP persists in its attempts to get rid of Social Security as it exists, I have to wonder whether deportations could serve yet another false GOP claim–that S.S. is running out of money. (Apologies: I’m constitutionally averse to conspiracy theories but my universe has been somewhat disrupted of late.)
In any case, you and the Times will be doing a fine service to your readers if we could all see these stunning facts again.
Certainly I can’t take credit for the editorial the Times published on February 25, but it was, in effect, a powerful response to my letter. I’ve put the entire editorial in, below.
And the numbers blew me away even more. What our country would lose by deporting millions of people is even more than Mr. Porter originally reported. So you, too, can be shocked by something other than Trump, I’m highlighting those portions that especially grabbed me. (I haven’t paid as much attention to the insane costs Trump promises to expend in our tax dollars for deportation and The Wall; I’m far more moved by how much we all would lose in direct contributions to our economy provided by undocumented workers.)
The Immigration Facts Donald Trump Doesn’t Like
Let’s be clear: The moral case against President Trump’s plan to uproot and expel millions of unauthorized immigrants is open-and-shut. But what about the economic cost? This is where deeply shameful collides with truly stupid.
The Migration Policy Institute reported in 2013 that the federal government spends more each year on immigration enforcement — through Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol — than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The total has risen to more than $19 billion a year, and more than $306 billion in all since 1986, measured in 2016 dollars. This exceeds the sum of all spending for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Secret Service; the Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
ICE and the Border Patrol already refer more cases for federal prosecution than the entire Justice Department, and the number of people they detain each year (more than 400,000) is greater than the number of inmates being held by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for all other federal crimes.
That is blank-check, steroidal enforcement — and Mr. Trump and the Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly, want more.
The size of the Border Patrol more than doubled in the 1990s and doubled again after 9/11. Mr. Trump ran on a pledge to expand the patrol and triple the size of ICE; Mr. Kelly has obliged. His enforcement memos last week seek to increase the force by 10,000 ICE officers and 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
Or maybe more, if you consider the administration’s trial balloon, recently floated, to mobilize 100,000 National Guard troops and add them to the mix. Such an effort would surely exceed, in scale and futility, President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send the Army and that National Guard to the Southwest to fruitlessly chase Pancho Villa in 1916. How much will it all cost? Mr. Trump isn’t saying, if he has bothered to check.
Mr. Trump also talks about a 2,000-mile, double-thick, very high wall along the border from San Diego to Brownsville, Tex. There are already 700 miles of fencing on the border, plus watchtowers, sensors, floodlights and razor wire, and boots and all-terrain vehicles on the ground and drones in the air. In 2009 the Government Accountability Office estimated the cost of the existing fence at $2.8 million to $3.9 million per mile, but that was for the relatively easy stretches.
Estimates of the full price of Mr. Trump’s great wall vary. He said it would cost $8 billion, then changed that to $10 billion to $12 billion. “Fat chance,” the MIT Technology Review said last October, finding Mr. Trump guilty of “bad math” and placing the real figure at $27 billion to $40 billion for 1,000 miles.
But wait — didn’t Mr. Trump also say the cost to America would actually be zero, since he would force Mexico to pay for the wall, even though Mexico says it won’t? He did. But then he said Mexico would reimburse us for the wall, which is to say … who knows? Mr. Kelly’s memos include a plan to catalog United States aid to Mexico, suggesting that he is looking for money to raid for a Trump wall fund, and that this so-called wall remains firmly in the realm of delusion.
Which won’t stop the flow of money out of Washington. One example: The Homeland Security inspector general reported in 2014 that the Border Patrol had spent $360 million over eight years on drones but found “little or no evidence” that the drones made the border more secure.
Although facts are of little interest to this White House, all this budget-busting border mania is essentially for nothing. Illegal immigration from Mexico has trailed off in the last decade. And according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the net flow across the border is now less than zero.
Wait, there’s more. All the people Mr. Kelly rounds up will have to be detained and deported at taxpayer expense. Congress requires the Homeland Security Department to maintain about 34,000 immigration detention beds, at an estimated annual cost of $2 billion, or $5.5 million a day. Adding thousands more cells and beds will surely send that bill — like the profits of the private-prison contractors who have been cashing in on all this misery — through the roof.
Now let’s examine the cost to the economy.
If you do back-of-the-envelope calculations, you’re gonna need a big envelope. The American Action Forum last year estimated that expelling all unauthorized immigrants, and keeping them out, would cost $400 billion to $600 billion, and reduce the gross domestic product by $1 trillion.
Mr. Trump describes immigrants as rapist-murderer-terrorists, but what they really are is a pillar of the American economy, producing a net benefit of about $50 billion since 1990. Farms and restaurants, hotels, manufacturers, retail businesses — all sectors of the economy benefit directly or indirectly from immigrant labor.
As for taxes, unauthorized immigrants pay them, and if they work off the books, they pay into the system without taking out. They don’t collect Social Security and don’t qualify for food stamps or other benefit programs. They pay sales and property taxes, and since they are generally younger and healthier than the native-born population, they strengthen the safety net. The Social Security Administration estimates that unauthorized immigrations pay about $13 billion a year into Social Security and get only about $1 billion back.
It’s ridiculous to have to explain this to the president, but: If you take a population of 11 million people out of the country, or force them deeper underground, the economy will not be healthier. If you have to find foster parents for millions of abandoned American children of deported immigrants, society will not be stronger. Shrink our immigrant-rich economic sectors, send all that entrepreneurial energy to Canada and Mexico — America will not be better off.
Pull immigrants and refugees out of the declining Rust and Bible Belt cities and towns that they have been repopulating and revitalizing. Bleed the immigrant populations of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Who benefits? Not America.
While we wait for Mr. Kelly to achieve his boss’s bleak vision, we will have created a population of increasingly vulnerable, exploited noncitizens and Dreamer youths whose educations hit a dead end after high school. All that intellectual and economic potential, the prospect of rising incomes and tax payments, will have been squandered.