Monday, November 24, 2014


The president thinks "everybody" understands the reasonableness of his decision to adjust America's immigration prosecution priorities:
President Barack Obama brushed off complaints levied by the GOP that his immigration actions are illegal in an ABC News interview that aired today, saying that the U.S. has 'limited resources' and it only makes sense for the government to prioritize the removal of 'felons, criminals and recent arrivals' over longtime residents and families.

'Everybody knows, including Republicans, that we're not going to deport 11 million people,' Obama told George Stephanopolous during a Friday interview for his Sunday morning program This Week.

'The reason that we have to do prosecutorial discretion in immigration is that we know that we are not even close to being able to deal with the folks who have been here a long time,' he said....
See, I don't believe this. It seems to me that Americans can never decide whether their government is maximally incompetent or, at least in theory, maximally supercompetent -- they think government screws everything up, but they also think government ought to be able to kill all the terrorists, stop all the illegal border-crossers, seal off the country to Ebola and other diseases (and, when they're in a benign mood, ensure that everyone has a job and no one goes without health care) -- all without raising taxes or altering arrangements people are currently comfortable with (every health plan remains as is, no one ever has to remove shoes at the airport). So, yes, I think a lot of American believe we absolutely could deport all the undocumented residents and hermetically seal the borders, and we haven't done so out of a failure of will.

Americans don't understand how expensive it would be to deport every undocumented person in America:
In 2010, researchers at the Center for American Progress (CAP) calculated the total costs of such a program by breaking down the deportation process into four parts: Apprehension, detention, legal proceedings and transportation....

After running the numbers, CAP estimated the cost for deporting 10.8 million undocumented immigrants in America would be $200 billion over five years. DHS would also need $17 billion each year thereafter for continued enforcement. But there are more undocumented immigrants currently in the United States than when CAP produced its report. The DHS’s most recent report, from January 2012, estimates there are 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Adjusting for that increases the costs to $216 billion.

Yet even that understates the cost, because those numbers are not adjusted for inflation. Doing so brings the five-year cost of a mass deportations program to $239 billion, before factoring in the money for sustained enforcement to ensure a new wave of undocumented immigrants does not enter the United States. To put that in perspective, the federal government spent $265 billion on Medicaid in 2013. The Department of Homeland Security’s annual budget is only around $60 billion. A mass deportations program would require a massive increase in funding.
And while we're on the subject, let's talk about the cost of building a border fence, as reported in 2007:
The cost of building and maintaining a double set of steel fences along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border could be five to 25 times greater than congressional leaders forecast last year, or as much as $49 billion over the expected 25-year life span of the fence, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

A little-noticed study the research service released in December notes that even the $49 billion does not include the expense of acquiring private land along hundreds of miles of border or the cost of labor if the job is done by private contractors -- both of which could drive the price billions of dollars higher.
But I don't even think this would get through to the many Americans who just want the government to seal the borders and deport 'em all. Americans really don't process budget numbers in a rational way. If they don't like the sound of a program, they'll deem it highway robbery and a willful effort to send them to the poorhouse, even if it's a relatively tiny expenditure (say, a $100,000 study of methane emissions from cow flatulence -- it will never occur to them that their share of that $100,000, as one of 300 million U.S. citizens, is much less than a penny). On the other hand, if they're in favor of a program -- say, a war against swarthy Muslim evildoers -- then money is no object.

But the president could at least try to get some of this across. He shouldn't just airily say that we all know these numbers -- we don't. I think he often fails at communicating ideas like this because he lives in a world of government officials and experts who actually do know this stuff. Ordinary Americans don't.


Yastreblyansky said...

Yes, it's really hard for the public to understand. It would be a big step if Stephanopoulos could understand it, though (and Chuck Todd and so on) and try to pass it on.

Michael said...

I very much agree. The "government" is the ultimate martyr figure both omnipotent and incompetent. Politics as a secular religion of some sort.

John Taylor said...

As long as businesses hire undocumented immigrants, the influx will continue. There is no way to build a fence that will stop desperate people.