One of the most inane arguments against constructing a border wall is that the estimated cost of $12-$15 billion is just too much to bear. As if liberals suddenly care about spending when it comes to defending our sovereignty, security, and society from the crushing human and fiscal costs of illegal immigration, terrorist infiltration, drug importation, and sex trafficking. It’s akin to refusing to pay for the water to preempt a fire from spreading to your neighborhood and burning down your house.
Now a new report from the inimitable Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies demonstrates how easily the wall will pay for itself by saving taxpayers the heavy costs of future illegal aliens successfully kept out of the country. Camarota finds that, at a lifetime cost of $74,722 per illegal alien, the border wall will pay for itself within the 10-year budget frame if it only succeeds in keeping out 9 to 12 percent of those expected to successfully cross in the next decade. And as I will demonstrate, border fences are almost fully effective in keeping out those who smuggle through non-legal points of entry. Plus, the lifetime cost of keeping out each alien is very likely much higher.
Once we establish the efficacy of a double-layered security barrier — similar to the one built in San Diego and Israel — it is simply indefensible to focus on the cost of the actual construction. Last month, we reposted my case for a border fence, in which I prove conclusively that a double-layered security wall in the toughest areas serves as a force-multiplier.
The facts stand for themselves. A similar wall stopped almost 100% of the most committed Hamas terrorists in the West Bank and migrants on Israel’s southern border. The presence of such a security wall in the San Diego sector and a plain double (or triple) layered fence in the Yuma Sector reduced apprehensions by 95% and substantially reduced the flow of drugs. And most importantly, only a fraction of those two sectors — primarily in urban areas — have the double layered fence. Imagine if most of the sectors were sealed off?
We can see the effectiveness of fencing from a report published several months ago by the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Although there are only 35 miles of heavy duty double-layer fencing along the southern border, roughly one-third of the border has some form of fencing or vehicle barriers, with all but 100 or so miles being woefully inadequate. Nonetheless, the report found that while interdiction rates were over 50% across the border, they were as low as 5% in areas without any form of fencing. The history of the efficacy of fencing is “settled science,” as liberals like to say.
Thus, it’s quite evident that a fence would succeed in stopping a lot more than 9-12 percent of crossings. Camarota, however, just wanted to demonstrate how even a modest level of success would result in full savings. As Camarota noted, a full-proof wall, in his estimation keeping out 170,000 aliens per year, would actually save $64 billion over 10 years, which would mean taxpayers would recover the cost of the fence after just a few years’ worth of blocking illegal entry.
But it gets better.
Camarota’s report uses data from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to estimate the life-time fiscal impact (taxes paid minus services used) of immigrants by education level. He comes up with a sum of $74,722 per illegal-crosser. However, if the descendants of these illegal immigrants are factored in to the equation, the cost increases to $94,391 per illegal. And if different methodologies are used to calculate the life-time fiscal cost (not using net present value), the cost could be as high as $140,000-$150,000 per illegal, according to Camarota.
Moreover, there are more factors to consider when conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the wall. These numbers are merely comparing the cost of having a low-income migrant live here illegally vs. keeping that individual out. Liberals don’t merely oppose the border fence and allow illegals to come in only to remain here illegal. They want to give all these people amnesty, which will grant them access to welfare and entitlements. According to Robert Rector, “If amnesty is enacted, the average adult unlawful immigrant would receive $592,000 more in government benefits over the course of his remaining lifetime than he would pay in taxes.” That is eight times the cost of non-amnestied illegals residing in the country, per Camarota’s report.
Assuming a 95% success rate in deterring 170,000 immigrants, we could save roughly $100 billion a year relative to the cost of amnesty. Which means that just 6-8 weeks’ worth of deterring illegal entry would make building the fence more cost effective than amnesty.
The wall would likely save us from more than the estimated 170,000 illegals that evade the border patrol between points of entry. Until now we were only counting the fiscal cost of impoverished illegal immigrants who successfully infiltrate our borders and remain in the country undetected. In FY 2016, for example, 408,870 illegals were apprehended at or near the southern border. How many were not caught and successfully disappeared into the country? There is no way of telling for sure, but DHS estimated that in FY 2015 they apprehended 54% of those who infiltrated the country.
But even the 54% of illegals we supposedly apprehend every year are not free of charge. Not by a long shot. Many of them wind up successfully remaining in the country. According to recent data from the Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), nearly six in ten illegal aliens during the first ten months of FY 2016 were set free by immigration judges.
Even the ones we wind up deporting come at a big cost. They almost always surrender themselves to the border patrol, many of the children are let out of ICE custody, and even many families are now being released by the courts. The cost of the detention centers, the crushing burden on the courts, the education and health care for the Central American children, and the logistics of deportation all cost money. There is no better cost effective enforcement mechanism than a fixed impenetrable deterrent that prevents illegals from stepping foot on our soil in the first place. Not to mention the fact that it solves the political and legal arguments about deportation that invariably come into play the minute they enter our country.
Moreover, by focusing our investment in enforcement on a border wall, which is an up-front non-reoccurring cost for something that actually works, we will save billions in extra funding for the many other assets that have failed to secure the border. Just over the past decade, we have spent over $100 billion on different methods of security but to no avail — all to avoid the $12-$15 billion cost of building a double layer security barrier.
Thus, even if we say conservatively that roughly 700,000 illegals cross the border per year – including those apprehended and those who evade the border patrol – we can easily say that the life time cost of illegal immigration would be paid for within just a few weeks of a fence successfully deterring over 50,000 border crossings. And that is just the cost of illegal immigration.
According to the DOJ’s National Drug Intelligence Center, the economic cost of drugs in terms of crime, health care, and productivity is some $215 billion a year. And that was long before the recent opioid epidemic. The war on drugs has been a dismal failure in stopping drugs (although it has helped reduce crime across the board). However, there is one idea we never tried: keeping drugs out of America in the first place. The same wall that keeps out illegal immigrants and stopped Hamas terrorists will stop most drug smugglers.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to analyzing the drug problem is the open southern border, and particularly the sectors with limited or no fencing. Almost every drop of marijuana seized by the feds in FY 2016 (99.8%) and 76% of cocaine came though the southern border. Of all the marijuana seized at the southern border, 82% was found in just two sectors: Tucson and Rio Grande (east Texas). Those are by far the two busiest corridors for illegal immigration and the sectors with the least meaningful fencing.
Remember the double-layered fence we mentioned earlier that was constructed in only part of the Yuma Sector? As a result, Tucson suffers from marijuana smuggling exponentially more than Yuma — by a factor of 22. Arizona has become the drug-smuggling capital of the country. From 2010 to 2015, heroin seizures in Arizona have increased by 207 percent, while methamphetamine seizures grew by 310 percent.
It’s hard to even calculate the tens of billions we would save every year as a result of plugging the hole and building a security wall in just those two sectors alone. In addition, according to the National Drug Threat Assessment, most of the heroin in this country, which is tearing our communities apart, is coming from Mexico. Obviously, we will never live in a utopia and a portion of the other drugs will come in through the maritime borders, with some drugs will be smuggled through cars passing legally over the border, but building the wall would go a long way in cutting the costs of the drug epidemic.
In addition to drug smuggling, the permanent presence of an impenetrable fence will deter the appalling sex trafficking cartel and terrorist smugglers. This has an enormous fiscal cost as well as a moral and national security cost. Also, to paraphrase DHS Secretary John Kelly at his confirmation hearing, “in America, some of us think of this drugs as leisure, but in Latin America they are killing their people.” And remember, every dollar of drug revenue that is lost to the Narco-terrorist gangs is a dollar less flowing into Islamic terror.
Anyone who wants to haggle over the price of the fence clearly has no understanding of the severe burden open borders has on our budget or doesn’t want to secure the border.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.