The Cost of Illegal Immigration

By Steven A. Camarota on June 19, 2024

The chaos at the border in recent years, along with even Democrat-run cities complaining about its impact, have cast into stark relief one of the central issues såurrounding illegal immigration: its fiscal costs. Unfortunately, most discussions on the subject tend to be filled with misconceptions, half-truths, and at times even outright falsehoods. A fair read of the evidence indicates that illegal immigrants are almost certainly a net fiscal drain, but not because they are illegal per se. Nor is it because they are freeloaders or welfare cheats, or because they don't pay any taxes.

The reason is that a very large share of illegal immigrants have modest levels of education, which results in modest incomes and tax payments, even when they are paid on the books. Their generally low incomes also allow many of them to qualify for means-tested welfare programs, which they often receive on behalf of native-born children. In other words, illegal immigrants are a net fiscal drain on public budgets for the same reasons that legal immigrants and native-born Americans with low levels of education are: They receive more in benefits from the system than they pay into it.

These realities do not neatly satisfy either side of the contemporary immigration divide, so they are routinely ignored or even denied. Any serious and informed immigration-policy debate will have to confront them.

. . .

[Read the rest at National Affairs.]