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By Dr. Stephen Schwalbe
Faculty Member, Public Administration at American Military University
The Treasury Department reported last week that the federal government is on track to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year. That’s almost double what the government borrowed in fiscal year 2017.
If that news were not disturbing enough for economically conscientious citizens, we are looking at spending a lot more taxpayer money later this week. The latest continuing resolution (CR) – a temporary budget – expires on Thursday.
The federal government was partially shut down on January 20 because Congress could not reach a compromise on the federal budget. Also, Congress could not agree on a CR to continue last year’s CR for an unusual fourth consecutive time.
The temporary crisis ended on January 22, with another CR approved by Congress and signed by President Trump. The shutdown was not long enough to cost the billions of dollars that previous shutdowns have; this latest shutdown cost only tens of millions of dollars.
However, since the government re-opened, there has been no progress on the two contentious issues that caused the standoff in the first place. Those issues are the wall along the Mexican border to counter illegal immigration and the status of children (known as “Dreamers”) brought to this country by their illegal immigrant parents.
Trump ran for president on a platform that specifically mandated the construction of the border wall. He insisted that Mexico would pay for it.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric was designed to get votes, but it was not grounded in reality. If Mexico had any intention of paying for a border wall, it would have done so long ago and used its own workers to build it.
American Taxpayers Will Pay the High Costs of Border Wall Construction
The reality has set in that American taxpayers will pay for the wall after all. To obfuscate this reality, the Trump administration has low-balled the estimates to build it. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the wall would cost around $21 billion to build (minus annual maintenance costs).
A Senate report in April 2017, however, estimated that the wall would cost $70 billion to build and $150 million every year to maintain. Democratic senators have yet to be told how this proposed wall would reduce the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border.
The administration claims that the wall is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants flooding into the U.S. from the south. But the Pew Research Center reported that since 2007, the number of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. has been dropping significantly — by over one million people a year. That change is mostly due to the Great Recession.
That begs the question: Why do we need a border wall at this time?
Deportation of Dreamers Would Also Be Highly Expensive for Taxpayers
If most Republican senators have their way, the estimated 800,000 Dreamers would be deported to where they came from, mostly Mexico. But these deportation efforts would come at a high cost.
For example, the average cost for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest and deport one undocumented alien is $12,500. If you multiply that figure by about 800,000 Dreamers, the cost to deport them all would be nearly $10 billion. That is twice ICE’s annual budget.
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, “The 1.3 million young undocumented immigrants, the so-called Dreamers, enrolled or immediately eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are paying as much as $2 billion in state and local taxes every year.” Those Dreamers are not receiving any government benefits.
The day of reckoning will come on Thursday, February 8. Whatever decisions Congress makes regarding the wall and the Dreamers will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.
If the Republican majority in the Senate gets its way, taxpayers will likely spend at least $25 billion to immediately begin construction of the wall. Another $10 billion will be used to deport Dreamers to countries they have never lived in, splitting up hundreds of thousands of families.
The adverse effect on the federal budget will be significant and the images of deportations will dominate the media for years. That could have an untold negative effect on the American psyche and on our international image.
We saw just a small glimpse of what that effect could be like back in 2000, when 130 Immigration and Naturalization Service agents participated in seizing 7-year-old Elian Gonzales from his home in Miami (with a hundred or so protesters watching). The boy was then flown to Cuba to be reunited with his father.
The City of Miami had refused to cooperate with federal authorities. In fact, the mayor led one of the many protests against this repatriation effort against just one young boy. Imagine the adverse reaction to deporting 800,000 young adults across the country.
If Republican senators do not get their way, another federal government shutdown is likely and for much longer than a weekend. Another shutdown would also cost the federal government billions of dollars and put stress on the economy and the nation’s credit rating.
Within a few days, we should know how badly taxpayers will be hit paying for policies that the majority of Americans do not approve of today.
About the Author
Dr. Stephen Schwalbe is an associate professor at American Military University. He teaches political science and public administration to undergraduate and graduate students. In 2009, he published a book on BRAC called “Military Base Closures: Past, Present, and Future.”
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