National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Attention Super Committee: Help Reduce Deficit by Prioritizing Immigration Enforcement Spending

November 15, 2011


Press conference recording:


Washington D.C.— The bipartisan congressional “Super Committee” has 8 days to agree on how to get the nation’s fiscal house in order by cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade. In advance of the approaching deadline, the National Immigration Forum released today a fiscal review of immigration enforcement programs titled: Cut Here: Reducing Wasteful Spending on Immigration Enforcement. Save More than 2.6 Billion”. 


The review examines the cost-effectiveness of immigration enforcement programs and assesses their impact on the federal budget. The review is particularly important given likely Congressional cuts to the Department of Homeland Security’s budget. Border security and immigration detention programs are the largest immigration expenses in the DHS budget and deserve careful review as Congress attempts to root out waste and inefficiency from the federal budget.


The National Immigration Forum’s review recommends several cuts to wasteful spending, including:

·         Prioritizing the deportation of immigrants who pose a threat to public safety and reducing an over-reliance on detention by maximizing cheaper alternatives to detention. Savings: about $1.6 billion annually in detention costs.

·         Ceasing annual, unjustified increases in the Border Patrol budget that are disconnected from current security needs. Focus on effective programs and eliminate those that are ineffective and waste resources. Savings: $300 million.

·         Eliminating Operation Streamline. Savings: more than $360 million per year.


The federal immigration detention system consumes a large part of DHS’s budget. With the average detention costs at $166 per day, even the most expensive alternatives to detention models could save taxpayers more than $4.4 million daily if ICE only detained individuals who have committed violent crimes—an annual savings of over $1.6 billion.


Border enforcement spending has become a gaping fiscal black hole.  The current approach to border security can be described as “spend billions now, ask questions later”.  As expenditures for border security increase while levels of illegal immigration decline, any marginal return on investment in border enforcement is rapidly diminishing.


William K. Moore, a partner of the Texas Border Coalition, a group of local officials and community leaders who represent more than 6 million people who live along the Southwest border, described imbalanced enforcement priorities at the border and subsequent waste. According to CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin, the U.S. apprehends up to 90 percent of people seeking to enter illegally between the ports of entry.   In response, the Mexican cartels have moved the traffic in drugs and persons to the ports of entry, where the data shows they get caught only 28 percent of the time.  “We cannot continue to lard the Border Patrol budget with wasteful spending – such as $242 million for another virtual fence that is destined to fail – while starving security at the ports,” stated Moore. “Border security requires us to move past wasteful and anachronistic policies and implement smart strategies to meet the present danger.”


Moreover, current proposals in Congress would expand the E-Verify electronic worker verification program by mandating it for all employers. Mandating E-Verify would have ripple effects beyond the agencies running the program. Alex Nowrasteh, policy analyst of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market policy group, commented on the fiscal impact of mandatory E-Verify. “E-Verify is a regulatory beast that will cost the government at least $6 billion over the next ten years and decrease tax revenues by at least $17 billion over the same time span by forcing legal workers into unemployment or into the black market where they won’t pay taxes.” He added, “Republicans who favor small government should not be supporting E-Verify. One cannot support smaller government and increased enforcement of our burdensome, interventionist, and statist immigration laws.” 


“There is a different approach to immigration beyond the same-old mass-deportation strategies. We can maximize the economic power of unauthorized immigrant workers by reforming the immigration system and bringing workers out of the shadows and into the open labor market”, said Ben Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council. The American Immigration Council’s 2010 report, Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, found that a legalization program for unauthorized immigrants would result in a large economic benefit —a cumulative $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. In stark contrast, a deportation-only policy would result in a loss of $2.6 trillion in GDP over 10 years. “Significantly, immigration reform not only boosts the wages of newly legalized workers but it also modestly increases the wages of native-born workers because the “wage floor” rises for all workers.”


“The National Immigration Forum’s fiscal review offers ideas that keep our nation safe, ease our budget crisis, and put American families back on the road to prosperity,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. “Poorly-prioritized, deportation-only immigration policies contribute more to the U.S. deficit than to our national security and commerce needs. If our enforcement was focused along the security priorities outlined in our report, the government could save more than $2.6 billion for American taxpayers.  The Super Committee should reprioritize the federal government’s immigrant enforcement expenditures and Congress should work together to fix our nation’s immigration system to make taxpayers out of all employers and all immigrants.”





Savings Recommendations


·         Scrap Operation Streamline, saving more than $350 million per year for the prosecution of real crimes.

·         Stop annual increases in the budget of the already over-resourced Border Patrol. Savings: $300 million per year.

·         End the unnecessary deployment of the National Guard to our Southwest Border. Savings: $300 million per year.

·         Shift some of the savings realized by ending programs mentioned above to staffing and infrastructure at ports of entry. The GAO estimates that 6000 new personnel are needed at ports of entry to prevent smuggling in to and out of the U.S. and to facilitate travel and trade.



·         Programs that persistently fail to meet Administration goals or are riddled with incurable flaws, as the 287(g) program has been, should be terminated. Ending 287(g) would save $68 million per year.

·         ICE’s detention operations should maximize cost-savings programs, and should utilize detention only when able to justify the expense and rationale for detaining an individual facing removal proceedings. ICE could save more than $1.6 billion annually if it only detained individuals who have committed violent crimes. ICE should continue to reform its immigration detention facilities. 



·         Funding for the adjudication of proceedings in immigration courts should keep pace with funding for immigration enforcement. Otherwise, immigrants languish in detention, awaiting a hearing, while costs to the government mount. 

·         Programs such as the Legal Orientation Program, which assists detainees to represent themselves before the immigration court, make the immigration court system function more efficiently, and provide the potential for significant avoidance of detention costs.


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