Center for American Progress

The High Costs of Delaying Executive Action on Immigration

The High Costs of Delaying Executive Action on Immigration

A federal judge’s decision to delay the DHS immigration directives could cost the nation billions in tax revenues while leaving millions of eligible undocumented immigrants and their American families in limbo.

Claudia Ramon and her daughters Isabella and Camila speak outside a town hall forum in Houston. The meeting was held despite an injunction from a federal judge in Texas blocking President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. (AP/Pat Sullivan)
Claudia Ramon and her daughters Isabella and Camila speak outside a town hall forum in Houston. The meeting was held despite an injunction from a federal judge in Texas blocking President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. (AP/Pat Sullivan)

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction on February 16 in the lawsuit filed by Texas and other states against two of the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS’s, key recent immigration directives: The expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, for older DREAMers, and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. These two directives would provide an opportunity for an estimated 5 million low-priority undocumented immigrants to affirmatively request a temporary reprieve from deportation and temporary work authorization.

On March 12, the U.S. Department of Justice made an emergency motion to the U.S. Court of Appeals 5th Circuit requesting that the circuit court stay, or block, the district court injunction from taking effect. If the appeals court refuses to stay the injunction, the expansion of DACA and implementation of DAPA could be put on hold for months.

The injunction, however, does not affect the other directives announced on November 20, 2014, including the new prosecutorial discretion memo that directs DHS agents to prioritize removal of serious criminals rather than family members and DREAMers. This means that the people who would have been eligible for deferred action under the directives, so-called DACA- and DAPA-eligible immigrants, are not enforcement priorities and will not be removed from the United States.

That means the primary effect of Judge Hanen’s ruling is to delay millions of individuals the sense of stability that comes with knowing that they have an affirmative determination, are not deportation priorities, and are temporarily authorized to work. The preliminary injunction denies these individuals—more than half of whom have lived in the United States for at least 13 years—the chance to become fully productive engines for the nation’s economic growth. Because it preserves a costly status quo, Judge Hanen’s ruling has real human and economic consequences. If the court of appeals does not block it, the ruling will cost the nation and individual states billions of dollars in lost economic benefits and tax revenues, while leaving millions of American families in legal limbo.

Missing out on economic and fiscal gains

A delay in providing temporary legal protections and work permits to eligible immigrants means that the nation and states are losing out on significant economic gains. While most of these immigrants are already part of the shadow workforce, eligibility to receive temporary legal work authorization provides them with the opportunity to pursue better and more productive jobs. Estimates show that temporary work permits will increase the earnings of an undocumented immigrant by nearly 8.5 percent by preventing workplace exploitation and allowing them to find jobs that best fits their skills and experience.

For example, the Council of Economic Advisers, or CEA, estimates that the November executive action providing deferred action to low-priority individuals will increase the national gross domestic product, or GDP, by nearly $60 billion over the next decade. In the aggregate, CEA estimates that the immigration directives will increase the GDP by $210 billion. As CAP demonstrated in a recent report, payroll tax revenues will increase $22.6 billion in five years and the solvency of the Social Security system will increase by $41 billion over 10 years as workers earn higher wages.

State and local economies also stand to benefit immensely from the executive action. For example, if undocumented immigrants are able to receive work permits in Texas, the state’s tax revenues will increase by $338 million. The tax revenues of Georgia and Arizona, both plaintiffs in the lawsuit, are estimated to grow by $190 million and $100 million, respectively.

The reason for these positive economic gains lies in the eligibility criteria set for the beneficiaries under the immigration directives. By design, these are people already living in our communities and serving roles in growing the economy. They are the people picking our crops, our factory workers, our nannies; they are small business owners in our communities. These immigrant workers are important to all Americans beyond just the extra tax revenues they could raise. A study in North Carolina, for example, estimated that every one to two immigrant agricultural workers create one new American job.

The alternatives are even more costly

As discussed above, the status quo is not cost-neutral. A delay in low-priority individuals being able to stabilize their immigration situations and access temporary work authorization means a delay in realizing significant economic and fiscal benefits.

However, some in Congress, particularly the House of Representatives Republican leadership, have tried to go further and block all of the immigration directives, including the directive prioritizing felons over families. They passed a bill out of the House to do just that, but it could not clear the Senate. The ostensible goal of that effort is to transform all 5 million people who would be protected under DAPA and DACA into enforcement priorities. The Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, estimated that the House-passed bill, which would permanently remove the authority of the administration to exempt or defer removal of certain groups of people, would increase the deficit by $7.5 billion over 10 years.

Endeavoring to deport all 5 million people is fiscal and economic suicide. Not only would it mean a significant loss in tax revenues, but physically deporting 5 million individuals—from apprehension to putting them on a plane—is estimated to cost taxpayers a bare minimum of more than $50.3 billion, or nearly $10,070 per deportee. That hefty price tag does not even take into account the incalculable economic effects on GDP as a result of removing so many workers and consumers from the economy.

Real human costs in delaying legal status

Apart from the economic losses in the coming years if the immigration directives are not allowed to proceed, there are real human costs to maintaining the status quo. Both the economic and human costs have the same root cause: These immigrants have long been an integral part of U.S. communities. The Pew Research Center estimates that the share of undocumented residents who have been in the United States for more than a decade is at a nearly all time high—61 percent in 2013. Assuming that these long-term residents are more likely to have children born in the United States, they are also more likely to be eligible for the immigration directives. Delaying the DACA expansion and DAPA throws their lives into uncertainty once again, whether that means not being able to work legally and pay taxes, get driver licences, or go to college because they cannot afford to pay out-of-state tuition.

In the long term, stalling the immigration directives prevents individuals from investing in their future, pursuing their careers, and being independent. A recent USA Today article quoted a landscaper from Florida who would have been eligible under the new directives, saying, “We’re people that work, that go to school to get a better education to live a more productive life. The more professional you are, the more you can contribute to society. Why wouldn’t they want us to do that?”

Besides postponing the hopes and dreams of millions of people, the federal court ruling also allows the fear of deportation to continue among eligible immigrants. Just the threat of deportation is enough for individuals to avoid public spaces and be hesitant to interact with the police. This fear trickles down from the parents to children, negatively influencing their development. President Barack Obama’s announcement of deferred action provides some hope to these long-term residents and their families, while Judge Hanen’s ruling prolongs their predicament.


In addition to the Justice Department’s emergency stay motion, the administration has also requested expedited consideration of their appeal on the merits of Judge Hanen’s decision. Support for the president’s executive action across the nation is undeniable: 14 states and the District of Columbia have filed a brief in support of the government’s emergency stay request. Additionally, mayors of 33 cities and 27 police chiefs filed amicus brief at the district court in support of DACA and DAPA, citing economic gains and public safety. These jurisdictions have larger foreign-born and undocumented immigrant populations than the states that are party to the lawsuit and have a deeper understanding of the benefits that will flow from these directives.

The DHS directives will move the United States one large step closer to fixing the nation’s broken immigration system. Misguided efforts to block this progress in the courts and Congress are fiscally and economically counterproductive.

Silva Mathema is a Policy Analyst on the Immigration team at the Center for American Progress

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Silva Mathema

Director, Immigration Policy