President Donald Trump has repeatedly said Mexico would foot the bill for his proposed wall along the southwest border, but the barrier could end up paying for itself by saving the U.S. treasury billions in welfare payments.
Estimates for building a solid physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border range from $18 to $25 billion, depending on the type and distance of the wall. Once constructed, though, the barrier would save several times that amount by reducing the number of illegal border crossers who end up on welfare rolls, according to Steven Camarota, the research director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
“The wall could pay for itself even if it only modestly reduced illegal crossings and drug smuggling,” he told the New York Post.
Camarota crunched the numbers and found that if the border wall cut an expected 1.7 million illegal crossings by 200,000 — about 12 percent — over a decade, it would pay for itself in fiscal savings from welfare, public education, tax credits and other benefits available to low-income, illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
At the higher end of effectiveness, if a wall stopped 50 percent of those expected crossings in the next 10 years, it would save $64 billion — nearly four times the cost of the wall — in welfare and social spending alone.
That’s because, despite a prohibition on illegal immigrants using federal welfare, the majority of households headed by illegal immigrants are on welfare through their children. U.S. Census Bureau surveys show that about 62 percent of all illegal immigrant-headed households use at least one federal welfare program, according to a 2015 CIS report authored by Camarota.
Use of Medicaid is especially high — about half of all illegal-immigrant households use federal programs that pay for the hospital bills of poorer Americans. That figure jumps to 72 percent for illegal immigrant households with children.
Many illegal immigrants also receive refundable tax credits for their U.S.-born children because the IRS requires a filer only to show a taxpayer identification number to receive the child tax credit. That interpretation translates to a huge subsidy: In 2013, 4.4 million filers using a taxpayer identification number claimed child tax credits worth $6 billion, according to a 2013 GAO report.
Some border security experts say access to welfare and tax credits is a powerful magnet for illegal immigration. A wall along the southwest border would go a long way toward deterring those looking to cross into the U.S. illegally to take advantage of welfare programs, explained Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.
“When you look at what a wall will do in allowing us to apprehend the vast majority of those individuals that are coming across the border, it will cut down on how much the taxpayer burden will be, which then will go straight into funding the wall,” he told Fox & Friends on Monday.
The Department of Homeland Security has not yet developed an effective way to measure precisely how effective walls are at countering illegal immigration, but previous examples of border barriers have proven to work where they have been built.
A 2006 Congressional Research Service analysis of the southern border found that a fence in the San Diego sector, combined with an increase in agents and other resources, caused apprehensions in the sector to decline by 76 percent over a 12-year period from 1992 to 2004. In El Paso, a two-story corrugated metal fence first erected under the Bush administration reduced illegal border crossings in the area by 89 percent from 2006 to 2012, reports the New York Post.