Since the last major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in 1986, the federal government has spent an estimated $186.8 billion on immigration enforcement. But those billions did not keep unauthorized immigrants out of the United States, nor persuade them to leave, because the 1986 reforms failed to create legal channels of immigration that could keep up with the growth of U.S. labor demand.
As a result, over the past two-and-a-half decades, the number of unauthorized immigrants has tripled to more than 11 million. What the enforcement spending spree has done is to waste taxpayer dollars while creating a slow-motion humanitarian catastrophe at the southwest border and in immigration courtrooms across the country. Thousands of migrants have died in deserts, mountains, and rivers as they try to enter the country from Mexico because there are no legal avenues by which they can come here. Tens of thousands of U.S.-citizen children have had their lives torn apart by the deportation of their parents. On top of that, the full economic potential of unauthorized immigrants as workers, taxpayers, consumers, and entrepreneurs has been squandered because they are unable to earn legal status. In other words, as Congress continues to ponder the possibility of enacting immigration reform legislation, the broken machinery of the U.S. immigration system continues to destroy lives and families while draining the federal budget and undermining the economy. But this cannot go on forever.
What does our failure to act on immigration reform cost us? Below is an infographic on "The Cost of Doing Nothing," from the Immigration Policy Center: