President Donald Trump said on Twitter that illegal immigration costs the United States at least $200 billion. Is he right?
William Flannigan and Annalee Monroe, Arizona Republic
WHO SAID IT: President Donald Trump
1. “Could somebody please explain to the Democrats (we need their votes) that our Country losses (sic) 250 Billion Dollars a year on illegal immigration, not including the terrible drug flow. Top Border Security, including a Wall is $25 Billion. Pays for itself in two months. Get it done!”
2. “Illegal immigration costs the United States more than 200 Billion Dollars a year. How was this allowed to happen?”
THE FORUM: Twitter, Dec. 4 and Dec. 18
WHAT WE’RE LOOKING AT: Does illegal immigration cost the United States $200-plus billion each year?
OUR FINDING: No Stars, False.
President Donald Trump has used several estimates about the cost of illegal immigration in the past few months as he seeks to garner support from Congress to build a wall on the southern border. The government shutdown centers around the issue.
Throughout December, he made multiple claims on social media and to reporters about the cost of illegal immigration, ranging from $200 billion to $275 billion.
In addition to the tweets made on Dec. 4 and Dec. 18, he said at a cabinet meeting on Dec. 19, “It’s so insignificant compared to what we’re talking about. You know, I’ve heard numbers as high as $275 billion we lose on illegal immigration.”
He repeated the number on Dec. 20 at a signing ceremony. “Illegal immigration costs our nation $275 billion a year. You hear many different numbers. You can say, ‘billions and billions,’ but the number that I hear most accurate is $275 billion a year — at least.”
No backing for the numbers
Neither Trump nor the White House has cited a source for the data about illegal immigration costs.
His numbers are more than twice as high as the closest published estimate, which was made by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a conservative research organization that advocates for less immigration, both legal and illegal. The group’s report, published in 2017, estimated the cost was $135 billion a year.
In June, AZ Fact Check found significant limitations to the FAIR report in an examination of a separate claim on the cost of illegal immigration. Immigration researchers have also criticized the study’s methodology.
A critique by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, called the study “fatally flawed.”
Nonetheless, the report did not necessarily serve as Trump’s source for the figures. Even FAIR appeared to be unaware of the research behind the $200 billion-plus costs.
“I’m not sure where the president got his numbers,” Dave Ray, communications director of FAIR, told the Associated Press.
Immigration analysts scratch heads
Other right-leaning research organizations also have not made estimates as high as those cited by Trump.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, released a report in 2013 about the costs of illegal immigration. The study found there were 3.7 million undocumented households and the costs were an estimated $54.5 billion per year — five times less than Trump’s estimate.
And the critique by the Cato Institute in 2017 gave an even lower number, with costs estimated at between $3.3 billion to $15.6 billion annually.
A range of immigration experts have said Trump’s costs are exaggerated. NBC News asked a myriad of analysts about his numbers.
“The $200 billion figure does seems inflated to me,” said Randy Capps, director for research for U.S programs at the independent think tank Migration Policy Institute told NBC News.
“It sounds extraordinarily high to me,” Meg Wiehe, deputy director at the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy told NBC.
Some say the costs are difficult to extrapolate. Overall data on the undocumented population in the U.S. is limited, according to researchers.
“It’s really hard to calculate anyone’s ‘net cost’ or ‘net benefit,” David Dyssegaard Kallick, the deputy director of the economic think tank Fiscal Policy Institute also told NBC. “We all use all kinds of services, from roads to military protection. How do we apportion what part of that is something I or you or an immigrant use?”
When asked about the $200-billion plus cost Trump used however, Kallick said the figure was, “Frankly absurd.”
The Trump administration has not provided any sources for the claim of a $200-plus billion cost for illegal immigration. No public report supports the figure and existing studies — even those with questionable methodology — show costs are significantly lower.
SOURCES: Dec. 18 Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump; Dec. 4 Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump; “AP FACT CHECK: Trump wrong about illegal immigration costs,” Associated Press, Dec. 2018; “Donald Trump’s false claim about the cost of illegal immigration, PolitiFact, Dec. 2018; “How much does illegal immigration cost in America? Not nearly as much as Trump claims,” NBC News, Dec. 2018; “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer,” The Heritage Foundation, May 2013; “The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers,” Federation for American Immigration Reform, Sept. 2017; “FAIR’s ‘Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration’ Study Is Fatally Flawed,” CATO Institute, Sept. 2017.
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