Pay as They Go: The Cruel Calculus of Deportation

On Sunday, thousands
are set to rally in the capital
to demand a just and fair
immigration policy. Though the protesters will try to make their voices
ring as loud as ever, perhaps nothing will speak more to the cause of
comprehensive reform than the people who aren't there to contribute
their voices.

The number of deportations-including people forcibly removed by
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as so-called
"voluntary" departures in which people are pushed to leave on their
own-clocked in at 387,790 last fiscal year. So Obama's first year in
the White House saw
a five percent increase in removals
over the previous year. This
escalating pattern of enforcement has split
apart an estimated 1.6 million family members
since the late 1990s,
according to Human Rights Watch.

And yet 10.8 million undocumented immigrants remain this country.
Though unauthorized immigration seems
to have waned during the recession
, the number still represents an
increase of about 300,000 since 2005. So in the absence of real reform,
what's left to do? How about finishing the job?

According to a study
by the Center for American Progress
, if the government were to
attempt a program of total deportation of the undocumented population,
the price tag should give pause to every right-wing anti-immigrant
crusader in Congress, and maybe plant the tiniest seed of doubt in
their minds about the cost of their hateful rhetoric.

CAP added
up the many expenses
involved in the industry of deportation--from
the legal processing to the construction of new detention facilities to
budget for ICE's "Fugitive Operation Program" to a one-way flight home
courtesy ICE's Detention and Removal Operations Flight Operations Unit.
The final figure is sobering:

[T]he total cost of mass deportation and continuing
border interdiction and interior enforcement efforts would be $285
billion (in 2008 dollars) over five years.

Specifically, this report calculates a price tag of $200
billion to enforce a federal dragnet
that would snare the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants in
the United
States over five years.6 That amount, however, does not include the
annual recurring
border and interior enforcement spending that will necessarily have to
occur. It would cost taxpayers at least another $17 billion annually
(in 2008 dollars) to maintain the status quo at the border and in the
interior, or a total of nearly $85 billion over five years. That means
the total five-year immigration enforcement cost under a mass
deportation strategy would be approximately $285 billion.

That doesn't even factor in the total impact on the economy as the
workforce is drained of workers in every sector, in numbers that rival
the population of some states. (Undocumented workers make up about five
percent of the labor force today.) And despite Rep.
Lamar
Smith's (R-TX) argument
that ramping up Homeland Security's
immigrant removal system could provide work for deserving Americans,
the sheer magnitude of this enforcement-only approach, particularly in
the midst of the current jobs crisis, would wreak immeasurable havoc on
local economies, families, and the social fabric into which these
households have firmly woven themselves, against all odds.

Meanwhile, a
recent economic analysis
by University of California at Los Angeles
professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda projects that legalizing currently
undocumented immigrants would generate about $1.5 trillion in new
wealth--and, of course, by keeping families together, would prevent
massive emotional suffering on both sides of the border.

With all the acrimony on Capitol Hill over the deficit and "fiscal
responsibility," CAP reminds us that "Spending $285 billion would
require $922 in new taxes for every man, woman, and child in this
country. If this kind of money were raised, it could provide very
public and private school student from prekindergarten to the 12th
grade an extra $5,100 for their education."

Many Republicans may twitch and shudder when asked to commit
taxpayer funds to health care
for their constituents, or
confronting the impending threats of climate
change
, or even temporarily extending
aid to the unemployed
. But when it comes to cracking down on one of
the backbones of the economy, they speak as if no price is too high to
pay to destroy the undocumented population they've helped create.

Congress is now beginning to move
on various
reform
proposals
, and grassroots groups are seizing
on the moment
to leverage the growing political and economic clout
of immigrant communities. It's likely that whatever legislation emerges
will be laden with shortsighted
restrictions and punitive fees
, along with potential infringements
on civil liberties
--all of which could further
entrench inequalities
in the low-wage workforce.

But as long as money talks in Washington, the ugly legislative
battle will at least leave the opposition speechless once they have to
face the real costs of getting rid of all those immigrants that America
supposedly can't afford.

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