America’s Immigration Battle By the Numbers

October 21, 2015
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by Sara Obeidat Abrams Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowships

Demonstrators chant slogans during a National Day of Action to #Fight4DAPA rally, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in New York. The demonstrators are demanding the end of a lawsuit that blocks a program to protect from deportation, parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

More than 2 million undocumented immigrants have been deported since President Barack Obama took office, a number that lawmakers on both side of the aisle agree points to a broken immigration system. A wide range of solutions has been proposed, everything from increasing deportations and strengthening the border, to expanding protections for millions in the country illegally. For now, the push for comprehensive reform is stalled in Congress. But when the debate resurfaces, here are several figures that could be key to the debate.

11.3 million

There were an estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in 2014 — down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 — a figure that is equal to about 3.5 percent of the population.

Mexicans make roughly half of this population, but in recent years, the number of undocumented immigrants arriving from Mexico has actually fallen off, while the number of immigrants making the reverse trip has pulled about even, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, the number of immigrants from Central America has surged, from 354,000 in 1980 to 3.2 million in 2013.

In total, roughly 350,000 new undocumented immigrants enter the nation each year, according to Pew.

5 million

After immigration reform stalled in Congress in 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions designed to protect as many as 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. One measure was designed to provide deferrals for approximately 4 million undocumented parents of American citizens or legal permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. The plan also extended a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows young people who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 to apply for deportation deferrals and work permits. The deferrals, though, would not create a path to citizenship.

In February, a federal judge approved an injunction on the programs in response to a challenge by Texas and 26 other states. The plan remains on hold as the case makes its way through the appeals process.

$11.84 billion

In 2012, undocumented immigrants collectively contributed $11.84 billion to state and local taxes — roughly 8 percent of state and local tax nationwide. That’s according to research by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, or ITEP. Granting lawful permanent residence to all 11.3 unauthorized immigrants in the country would raise their state and local tax contributions to $14.04 billion, aligning their tax payments with what the ITEP calls “economically similar” U.S. citizens.

$103.9 billion

Deporting all 11.3 million in the U.S. illegally would be far costlier. Separate estimates by the American Action Forum and the Center for American Progress — two think tanks on opposite ends of the political spectrum — each put the price tag for a mass deportation program as low as $103.9 billion and as high as $303.7 billion. According to both organizations, it would take more 20 years for a mass deportation program to remove all 11.3 million.

-6.4 percent

Mass deportation — as some political candidates have called for — could also dent the economy. The Bipartisan Policy Center calculates that deporting all current and future unauthorized immigrants would shrink the nation’s workforce by 6.4 percent. A policy that removed all unauthorized workers would also “hurt the housing market, increase the deficit, and reduce GDP by about 5.7 percent over the next 20 years,” according to the study.

$1.2 trillion

The Bipartisan Policy Center found that comprehensive reform would instead reduce federal deficits by $1.2 trillion over 20 years. It would also spur economic growth by 4.8 percent over the same period.

403,563

In the absence of comprehensive reform, the government’s immigration efforts have largely focused on securing the border and deportations. Starting from President Obama’s first full year in office in 2009 through 2013, the U.S. has deported an average of 403,563 people each year, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.

$5 billion

In 2011, the deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told a House subcommittee that it costs an average of $12,500 to arrest, detain and deport each person removed from the U.S. That translates to roughly $5 billion in spending each year on deportations.

$5.1 billion

The U.S. and Mexico share a 1,900-mile-long border. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office calculated that it would cost an average of $3.9 million to secure a single mile of the southern border. At least $2.4 billion has been allocated to complete about 670 miles of vehicle and pedestrian fencing. Walling off the remaining 1,300 miles could cost an additional $5.1 billion, based on the GAO’s estimates.

40 percent

The shape of any future immigration reform legislation will have clear political implications. There are 53 million Hispanics in the U.S. and in the 2012 election, this group made up 10 percent of the total vote. By 2030, Hispanics are expected to make up 40 percent of the growth in the eligible electorate, according to Pew.

As a voting bloc, Hispanics have overwhelmingly sided with Democrats in national elections. In 2012, for example, 71 percent of Latino voters sided with President Barack Obama while only 29 percent voted for his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

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