Drop Deportation from Immigration Debate

An Unworkable, Expensive Option

The complex debate over the immigration bill could be simplified by taking an unworkable option off the table: mass deportation.

The Senate renews debate this week over dozens of amendments to the comprehensive immigration reform bill—one of which should fall permanently off the table: mass deportation.

The new legislation, known as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, is not without its flaws, but it does represent progress in fixing our unregulated, unfair, and unworkable immigration system. In particular, it offers the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States a path to earned legalization rather than seeking their deportation.

Any policy prescription predicated on the current undocumented population vanishing, at the end of the day, rests on a policy of mass deportation. That is an unrealistic, expensive idea that would do nothing to improve our security.

The Center for American Progress conducted the first-ever cost assessment of a policy designed to deport all undocumented persons in the United States. Based on 2005 data, the assessment found that a mass deportation effort would cost at least $206 billion over five years, and could amount to as much as $230 billion or more.

Using the low-level estimate, which would come to $41.2 billion in annual costs, a mass deportation policy would exceed the Department of Homeland Security’s entire budget for fiscal year 2006 by $7 billion. It would also represent more than double U.S. annual spending on border and transportation security ($19.3 billion) and military operations in Afghanistan ($16.8 billion).

The Center’s assessment also estimated that any deportation effort would result in only about 20 percent of the undocumented population opting to leave the country voluntarily as a result of the passage of any deportation law. That means U.S. law enforcement authorities would have to round up and forcibly deport almost 10 million people now living in the United States. That’s just not going to happen.

The complex debate occurring in Congress and across the country about how best we can achieve a fair, workable immigration policy to replace our current system can be more reasonably debated by leaving a mass deportation policy off the table as an option. Such a policy is simply not a realistic or workable solution for addressing the United States’ undocumented population.

For more on CAP’s assessment of the costs of a mass deportation policy, see:

For more information on the Center’s policies on immigration, see:

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