The Realities of the Border Crisis: ‘The Unfair Burden’
Jessica M. Vaughan
Center for Immigration Studies
U.S. Senate Roundtable on the Border Crisis
October 20, 2021
The disastrous Biden administration policies allowing a major influx of new illegal migrants, together with the dismantling of immigration enforcement in the interior, are imposing profound costs on American communities. Nearly 30 years ago, the Florida state government conducted a comprehensive review of the fiscal impact of illegal immigration, and found that it had cost Florida taxpayers $884 million in 1993, the equivalent of $1.7 billion today. The report was called “The Unfair Burden”. The findings led then-Governor Chiles to demand action from then-President Clinton to reduce illegal settlement in Florida — and Clinton agreed. Americans deserve a similar thorough, official accounting of the costs of illegal immigration today. Even more importantly, they deserve immediate action from the federal government to stop it. These are some of the costs:
1. Labor Market — Since January, the border crisis has added more than 700,000 new workers to the labor market (counting both the released and the “gotaways”). They tend to be concentrated in certain parts of the country, primarily affecting those labor markets. We can identify 15 counties where about 30 percent of the new migrants have settled. These areas include Houston, Dallas, the D.C.-metro area, Long Island, Miami and Palm Beach, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Charlotte.
Some of the asylum seekers are able to get work permits, but many do not actually file asylum applications, so they end up working illegally. There is ample evidence from economists that an influx of migrants like this creates unfair competition for U.S. workers, leading to displacement and wage suppression. The migrants compete primarily with less-educated Americans, legal immigrants, and especially teens, causing displacement and suppression of wages. Those who are disadvantaged by this influx of new workers are already among the most marginalized in our communities, and the lack of consequences for the employers who hire them is a double whammy for these marginalized workers: fewer job opportunities and lower wages. (See “An Abundance of New Academic Studies Find Negative Impacts of Immigration” at Cis.org.)
2. Schools — An estimated 300,000 of the illegal migrants who arrived this year are minors who enroll in public schools, again largely concentrated in certain localities. With national average per-pupil spending at $13,187 in 2021, this will cost state and local taxpayers approximately $4 billion for the current school year alone. Many of these children will need additional services that add to the cost, including language support and counseling. In addition, some schools that have absorbed large groups of newly arrived minors have said that they now need more parental education and gang prevention programs.
The gang problem is not a small one. Roughly 30 percent of the MS-13 members that ICE has arrested in recent years originally arrived here as unaccompanied minors. The transnational gangs have successfully exploited the lenient border policies and the interior enforcement shutdown to grow their ranks here.
3. Medical Care — Many of the new arrivals will receive medical care from publicly funded “safety net services” for maternity, emergency, and pediatric care, and also through federally subsidized community healthcare centers that provide the full range of medical services to the uninsured (regardless of immigration status). Determining the cost is complicated, but it would likely come to more than $500 million per year just for the migrants that have arrived this year, based on disclosures from states that have identified these expenditures.
4. Other Welfare Services — There is an open expectation among those involved in the resettlement of illegal migrants that the responsibility for their long-term welfare assistance will be assumed by state and local governments. The range of services varies from place to place, but can be quite expansive, as shown in this New York City government guide, which offers child care, housing, food, legal assistance, and more.
5. Public Safety — The steep increase in drug smuggling and the problem of the so-called “gotaways”, whose numbers include many criminals avoiding the Border Patrol, have been well documented. This is occurring at a time when immigration enforcement in the interior, normally actively directed at criminal aliens, is in a state of collapse — meaning that even illegal aliens arrested for crimes are much less likely to be removed under Biden policies. According to ICE data that I obtained through a FOIA request, criminal alien removals are down 70 percent. This will erase many of the gains made in recent years against transnational gangs like MS-13 and 18th Street, which have mostly illegal alien members.
The Biden border crisis means significant new costs for state criminal justice systems to deal with the crime problems associated with illegal immigration — and the human cost of victimizations. The most insidious of the crimes that are directly associated with the border are human trafficking and human smuggling, both of which are enabled and facilitated by the deliberate Biden policies. The placement of minors in households without due diligence or meaningful background and post-placement welfare checks leads to disasters like the recent case in Alabama and Oregon, where dozens of teens were released directly to farm labor traffickers. Not much has changed in the five years since the Senate investigated this problem.
6. Federal Entitlements — Asylum seekers and parolees can qualify for cash payments from federal coffers under the Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit programs. We have estimated this cost to be about $3 billion year for illegal aliens who are already here ($1,100 per alien). . We expect that number to increase to include potentially hundreds of thousands of new arrivals who get work permits, or who use stolen SSNs. (See ”Estimating Illegal Immigrant Receipt of Cash Payments from the EITC and ACTC” at Cis.org.)
7. Integrity of the Immigration System — Besides imposing an enormous unfunded mandate on state and local taxpayers, enriching criminal smuggling organizations, and endangering migrants, tolerating illegal immigration inevitably encourages more of it. This erodes the integrity of our legal immigration system and public support for immigration in general.
In the face of these enormous costs, some states are starting to take action on their own, notably Florida Governor DeSantis, Texas Governor Abbott, and South Carolina Governor McMaster. But it would be better for all if Congress were to help taxpayers in all states by passing legislation, not only to better secure the border, but to facilitate state action. Some of the things Congress can do include:
- Establish baselines and mandates for enforcement levels that the executive branch cannot ignore. This should include expanding the types of cases that must trigger an enforcement action.
- Give the states more tools to determine the immigration status of people in their state, to use for screening for benefits, for law enforcement agencies, and to monitor the effectiveness of interior enforcement in their state.
- Require the federal government to notify state and local authorities before relocating migrants who are minors, families, and anyone released from the custody of federal immigration authorities after arrest at the border or in the interior.
- Establish more areas in the law where states can act on their own, either to enforce state laws against illegal hiring or prosecuting immigration-related crimes.