Why Our Immigration Debate is Insane

I found this posted on Reddit. While I haven’t checked all of the math, I still totally agree with the facts and sentiments presented.

There is no way our current system of laws and regulations regarding immigration can function. It is broken and the only arguments being had are tantamount to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.


Let’s consider the situation and what it would actually require to get to the end game that most anti-immigrant zealots want- specifically, no more undocumented immigrants present and zero unauthorized immigration.

The Current Situation

There are about 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the USA right now – probably more than that, as many as 12.5 million. 1 2 The majority are present via having entered by legal means, and have overstayed their visa.

During 2017, ICE arrested 143 thousand people. 3 That’s about one percent of all the undocumented immigrants in the country.

There’s a backlog of more than 658 thousand immigration cases in the courts right now.4 5 Some of these cases are not expected to be heard until 2022. Actual deportations under Trump are down, and arrests are up- so there is actually a detention space crisis.

Removal proceedings, even under expedited removal processes, can take weeks or months, requiring detention of the individual until that time.

It costs $164 a day to detain someone in ICE detention. 6 There were 41,005 people in detention as of March 4, 2017. That’s 6.7 million dollars a day ($6,724,820) being spent to detain about 0.37 percent of all undocumented immigrants.

If you’re curious, the cost to detain all 11 million for one day, assuming you had both the ability to detain them all and the capacity for them, would be 1.8 billion dollars. Every day. 700 billion dollars a year, if you’re even more curious.

Now, logistics

If you could somehow find a way to get all 11 million people into detention, then begin deporting them- say by rail, you’d have to put 1000 people on a ten-car train leaving the station every 45 minutes for a full year before you’d be done. Other methods of transportation (boat, plane, bus) would be similarly overwhelming in terms of sheer logistical needs.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account things like investigation, paying people to detain, house, feed and care for these folks, providing for court proceedings and due process rights, appeals and the like. That costs quite a bit.

And of course this incredibly simple example assumes that 100% of all of them are going to the same country, which is willing and able to accept them- a completely ridiculous notion, but even if it were true, it would still be a practical impossibility.

We currently spend about 24 billion dollars a year on Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement- out of about 70 billion for DHS overall. 7 As we’ve noted above, that’s buying us 143 thousand people detained in 2017. Some quick cocktail napkin math shows that at the current ROI we’re getting, we’d need to spend about 2.4 trillion dollars to get us there. That’s assuming no economies of scale, etc, obviously. And it also includes no additional costs for things like feeding, housing and managing a prison population that exceeds the entire current US prison population by a factor of four. But it does give one a good sense of the scope of the problem.

For reference, the US budget for 2015 was $3.8 trillion.

The End-Game

So! Back to it. If our desired goal is the removal of 11 million undocumented immigrants from our country, and having a bit more context on the size of that problem, and the costs associated with it…

It should be quite obvious that unless we’re willing to quite literally bankrupt the country, there’s no practical path forward to removing all the undocumented immigrants currently in the US.

Perhaps we should consider reality and objective facts as part of our approach to both immigration policy and enforcement of same- because right now, ideology is simply being used to manipulate you, and any policy options currently under consideration by our government are literally impossible to carry out- they serve no sane or rational purpose, being only ways to spend money and hurt people for no logical reason.

Responses to Common Rejoinders

When I posted this previously, several “themes” made themselves apparent in the replies on the part of those who disagreed with my analysis or simply wanted to attack it because it diverged from their ideology. Here I’d like to address a few of those pre-emptively.

Response 1: “If we make things bad enough for undocumented immigrants, they’ll ‘self-deport’!”

This was the central argument of a few people- by making their lives harder, denying them any access to support, resources, going after businesses who employ them with draconian punishments, and in general hound them badly enough, they’ll leave on their own.

This is a ridiculous notion, and relies on essentially zero understanding of human nature, the reality of the situation or the fact that undocumented aliens are already second-class citizens, who already live in fear, and have a lot of problems accessing things that the rest of us take for granted. And it’s even more delusional when you consider that in order to leave the country, even if they could or were willing to, they’d again have to cross a border, and without documentation, that’s not really an option.

The real outcome of this would be to create a permanent criminal caste and spike crime rates across the country.

Response 2: “They’re breaking the law, they have to be treated as criminals!”

This is actually not true. Immigration violations are a civil matter, not a criminal one. The fact that many people are cozened into believing that the phrase “illegal immigrant” means “criminal alien” does not change that. Being present without authorization in the US is a civil infraction, with no criminal penalty attached. It’s about as serious in the eyes of the law as a speeding ticket, in that it’s a misdemeanor infraction.

Response 3: “They’re obviously committing a crime because to have a job they’d have to steal someone’s identity (Social Security Number).”

This is also untrue. The IRS asks no questions if you want a Taxpayer ID number instead of an SSN to file taxes and such because they’re not interested in your immigration status, they just want to get paid. Also, many immigrants (rightly or wrongly, that’s another topic) will work for cash or under the table, because they do have to eat like the rest of us.

Response 4: “They’re a drain on the economy by using resources and not paying taxes!”

This argument is also incorrect. Undocumented immigrants pay plenty of taxes, both payroll and things like sales taxes and local, and even property taxes. They don’t use any more resources on average than any other “legal” American, and arguably use fewer because of their status. In the end, they pay into the economy by working and their share of the benefits of it aren’t any greater than any other average citizen.

Response 5: “So what’s your solution, smart guy? If you don’t have an answer for the problem, why should we listen to you?”

Because facts are facts. Pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes is not restricted to the tailor with a suit ready to clothe him.

The truth is that it’s a complex problem with a lot of potential solutions, but the ones we like to argue about are simply not among those solutions.

Response 6: Bullets are cheap

Yes, several people have said this and, I believe, meant it.
/r/iamverybadass is easy to find [you delusional moron].

Response 7: Deny them due process!

That’s against the Constitution, which applies to everyone in the US, not just citizens. Also, you’d need due process to ensure that you weren’t denying it to people who should have it (as in mistakenly detained citizens).

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Author: Protiguous

C# Software Developer, Father, and seeker of Truth.

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