(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - America’s latest immigration push isn’t just cruel, it’s bad economics. Separating children from parents illegally entering the country is immoral – and expensive. Detention costs could hit up to $100 million for just one month, eating into a $3.2 billion deportation budget. And that’s before calculating the longer-term impact a reduction in immigration will have on the economy.
President Donald Trump recently toughened his already hardline immigration approach because of a jump in illegal entrants. Most of them are fleeing violence in Central America. In March 2018, there was a 203 percent increase in illegal border crossing compared to the same period last year. In April, the Justice Department announced a “zero tolerance” policy to criminally charge and prosecute anybody crossing the southwest border illegally, leading to the separation of children from adults.
That brutal move has led to about 2,000 children being separated from around 2,000 adults from just mid-April to the end of May. It can cost about $22,000 to apprehend, detain and deport each illegal immigrant, the mid-range estimate by the American Action Forum. When factoring the cost of supporting children who are transferred to the custody of the Health and Human Services Department, the government price tag for just that group of 4,000 kids and adults can hit $200 million if the children are still being held by the end of this year.
The government is incurring these increasing costs just as its revenue is falling. The Republican tax cuts that went into effect this year contributed to a 66 percent increase in the budget deficit in May. And there is a massive backlog in immigration cases, with average resolution time hitting two years. That’s partly why despite a 30 percent increase in arrests of illegal immigrants from 2016 to 2017, the number of deportations dropped by 6 percent last year.
Given that immigrants are good for the economy, it’s a double whammy of dumb policy. Without the addition of more than 17 million new immigrants, the U.S. working-age population would drop by nearly 8 million by 2035 from 2015, according to a Pew Research Center Study. Removing all 11 million illegal immigrants would cause a $1.6 trillion contraction in GDP over 20 years, according to the American Action Forum. Separating families and deporting foreigners puts America last in more ways than one.
- U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Republican lawmakers on June 19 ahead of a vote on immigration legislation. One of the bills would limit family separations, which have increased since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy in April. Under that move, people illegally entering the United States would be criminally charged, causing children to be separated from parents or other family members.
- Trump has blamed Democrats for the separations but he also said on June 18 that the United States would not become a “migrant camp.” The Department of Homeland Security said 1,995 children have been separated from 1,940 adults from mid-April to the end of May.
(Editing by Rob Cox and Amanda Gomez) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))