America’s surging illegal alien population now costs U.S. taxpayers $151 billion a year. An exhaustive study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform finds that an estimated 15.5 million illegal aliens and their U.S.-born children consume about $182 billion a year in federal, state and local benefits and services, which are offset by only $31 billion in taxes paid. The net 2022 cost of illegal immigration represents a 30% increase over the 2017 cost of $116 billion.
These are conservative estimates of the costs of illegal immigration because governments at all levels take special care to obscure the extent to which illegal aliens access government programs. Moreover, the Biden administration’s expansive (and legally questionable) use of parole authority to allow hundreds of thousands of ineligible migrants to enter the country each year is certain to balloon these already staggering costs to taxpayers. Those admitted under parole are quickly eligible to access government services and assistance programs (while they wait for years to plead their case to remain here) that are off-limits to illegal aliens who sneak across the border or overstay their visas.
While the Biden administration has been greasing the turnstile and inventing new ways to allow migrants to enter the country illegally without the bad optics at the border, the bulk of the cost associated is being foisted on state and local governments. Of the gross outlay of $182 billion for benefits and services, $115.6 billion comes out of state and local coffers — entities that lack the ability to print money or endlessly raise the debt ceiling.
The largest line-item cost is K-12 education for children who are themselves here illegally and the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens (who would not be here if their parents hadn’t entered the country without legal permission). As a result of a 1982 Supreme Court ruling, Plyler v. Doe, local governments are compelled to provide free elementary and secondary education to any child in their jurisdiction. That largely unfunded mandate has hit states and localities with a $70.4 billion annual cost, while the federal government adds just $6.6 billion a year.
Of course, many virtue-signaling jurisdictions have decided that a $70 billion-a-year unfunded education mandate just isn’t enough and have taken it upon themselves to sweeten the deal by offering illegal aliens heavily subsidized in-state tuition benefits at public colleges and universities. So-called sanctuary states and localities continue to make expensive new benefits and services available to illegal aliens, even though they have no legal obligation to do so. A case in point is New York City’s decision to house recent migrants in Manhattan hotels while homeless veterans sleep on the street — policy choices that local officials estimate will cost the city’s rapidly shrinking tax base $4.2 billion over the next year.
The list of ways that mass illegal immigration is draining American taxpayers goes on and on — 91 pages, to be precise. What is most striking is that the vast majority of the $151 billion in net costs associated with illegal immigration are largely self-inflicted and can be uninflicted over time if we choose to. For decades, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, we have neglected to enforce countless immigration laws that were designed to protect the interests and well-being of the American public. In the past two years, since the Biden administration has come to office, that neglect has morphed into outright sabotage and an unprecedented surge in the number of people entering our country illegally and a spike in costs to the public.
At the same time, political leaders have ignored both data and common sense and bought into the absurd notion that poor or indigent illegal aliens pay more in taxes than they consume in benefits and services. They don’t. In fact, for every dollar that the typical illegal alien contributes in taxes, they and their dependents cost the rest of us $6.
Nor, as the apologists for mass illegal immigration insist, will granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens make them net contributors to the public treasury. Rather, granting legal status to illegal aliens would only make them eligible for more public benefits and service, while only marginally increasing their tax contributions.
There will always be people who violate our immigration laws. But through sensible enforcement of our borders and ending abuse of our asylum policies, prosecution of employers that knowingly hire (and sometimes abuse) illegal workers, and eliminating access to nonessential public services and benefits, we can discourage new migrants from settling here illegally and encourage many who are here that there is no point in remaining.
At a cost of $151 billion a year — and growing — it is clear that we cannot afford to maintain the status quo.
• Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.