Illegal Immigration Costs California $30.3 Billion A Year—17.7 Percent Of State Budget

cost of illegal immigration into california

Illegal Immigrants Cost the State of California $30.29 Billion Annually

Illegal immigrants and their children cost the State of California a net $30.29 billion per year.  This equates to $7,352 per illegal alien, or roughly 17.7 percent of California’s state budget.

While many of these costs are absorbed by the federal and local governments, the drain on the State of California remains significant.  Increasingly, the question is no longer whether California ought to give illegal immigrants sanctuary—it’s whether they can afford it.

How Many Illegal Immigrants are in the State of California?

No one really knows how many illegal aliens reside in California—by definition they’re undocumented.  However, we can generate reasonable estimates.

Let’s begin by answering what should be a straightforward question: how many illegal immigrants reside in America?  The estimates are wide-ranging.  On the low end, Pew Research estimates that the number of illegal immigrants who live in the U.S. is roughly 11.1 million.  Although this falls in line with figures from the Department of Homeland Security, many believe the true figure is much higher.

There are two reasons for this.  First, these “official” figures do not include the children of illegal immigrants who were born in America—the so-called “anchor babies”.  Although natural-born citizens, these individuals are only here because of their parent’s criminal activity.  Can we blame them for their parent’s actions?  No.  But there’s no denying that the addition of 6.5 million additional children is a burden on our welfare state—especially since their parents contributed nothing towards its creation, and little towards its operating costs.

Second, the official aggregate figures (suspiciously) plateau around 2007.  The explanation is that after 2008 the number of migrants fell and deportations rose to an equilibrium point.  However, there is little evidence that migration rates fell, and the reason deportations increased is because the Obama Administration simply changed the definition of “deportation” to inflate the numbers.

If the official figures are flawed, then just how many illegal aliens reside in America?

A relatively recent study conducted by Dr. Mohammad Fazel Zarandi of the Yale School of Management estimates that some 22.8 million illegal immigrants live in America.  This figure draws upon more recent data and a variety of (sometimes-ignored) sources, and is likely more accurate than estimates from Pew or the DHS.  Reasonable though it is, some believe the number is still higher.

Upper-range estimates suggest that over 30 million illegal aliens live in America.  This number has been proposed most vociferously by conservative author Ann Coulter in her book Adios America.  She based her figure on banking and remittance payment records, government service demand, and migration projections from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

While I am inclined to accept the higher estimates—and at the very least Dr. Zarandi’s eminently reasonable figure—I will proceed with this article using the number of illegal immigrants estimated by Pew Research and the DHS (11.1 million).  This way my conclusions cannot be attacked for using “inflated” statistics.

The next question is how many of these illegal aliens live in California?

According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), there are 3,019,000 adult illegal immigrants living in the state of California.  On top of this are 1.1 million children of illegal immigrants (975,000 of whom would be considered anchor babies).  Therefore, in total there are 4.12 million illegal immigrants, and their children living in California.  Again, the real number is probably significantly higher, but I will proceed using the lowest reasonable estimate.

A few topical observations regarding the illegal population.  First, they use government services.  I’ll get into the details later, but note that some 806,000 undocumented migrants had California drivers licenses in 2016.  Clearly they’re interacting with the government in a meaningful way.

Second, most are relatively unskilled and uneducated, and many have poor language skills.  The MPI estimates that 54 percent of illegals immigrants speak English either “not well” or speak it “not at all”.  This is why they tend to work in low level service sector jobs (restaurants and hospitality) or manual labor (agriculture, construction).  In any event, it must be noted that illegal immigrants aren’t adding anything unique to the labor market—machines or teenagers could replace them, were wages high enough.

To sum up: there are at least 4.12 million illegal immigrants residing in the State of California, they interact with the government, and they generally work low-end jobs.

Calculating the Cost of Illegal Immigration in California

Education for Illegal Immigrants & Anchor Babies: $15.63 Billion

There are 975,000 anchor babies and 130,000 undocumented children living in California.  This totals 1.105 million children—most of whom are educated at state expense.

Although the California Department of Education doesn’t include undocumented children as a separate statistical group in terms of costs, we know that the total enrollment in California’s public schools was 6,226,737 in 2016.  A further 573,000 attended private charter schools.

Given that the vast majority of illegal immigrants attend public schools, this means that roughly 18 percent of California’s public student population is comprised of children here illegally, or the children of illegal immigrants.

This inflated student population costs a lot, and adds huge burdens on California’s education system.

According to California’s state budget $88.3 billion is allocated for California’s K-12 students ($51.6 billion from California, the rest from local and federal initiatives).  Given their proportion of the student population, illegal immigrants and their children may absorb up to $15.63 billion in educational costs.  While the costs are not necessarily distributed on a pro rata basis (there will always be fixed capital costs), labor remains the largest single budgetary expense.  Frankly, fewer students means fewer teachers and administrators—and thus a smaller budget.  Either way, it’s clear that illegal aliens, and their children, are a large burden on California’s public education system.

Furthermore, the deluge of students reduces the quality of education for American citizens.  Consider that California’s student-teacher ratio is 35 percent above the national average.  This is directly the result of illegal immigration—it’s the kids that suffer.

Healthcare For Illegal Immigrants: $4.02 Billion

Providing healthcare for illegal immigrants in California imposes significant costs, while also increasing wait-times and decreasing the overall quality of care (by lowering the physician-patient ratio).

Illegal immigrants withdraw roughly $2.28 billion from Medicaid in California, and cost roughly $1.3 billion in emergency services (they are treated, but do not pay).  Together, these hard costs equate to $4.02 billion per year.

However, these numbers don’t necessarily reflect the true costs of illegal aliens on the healthcare system, because they don’t quantify opportunity costs (we could be investing in better technology, or more doctors, rather than treating illegal immigrants) or damage caused by the burdened system (pain and suffering caused by long wait times, lost productivity etc.).

Remittance Payments: $3.86 Billion

A remittance is a transfer of money from someone in the U.S. to their family back home.  They are usually given by recent immigrants, and particularly by illegal immigrants and visa card holders (who come to America to work in order to support their family abroad).  Basically, a remittance is money lost from the economy: it vanishes, never to be spent domestically.

According to Pew Research America lost $133.6 billion in remittances in 2015.  Of this, $24 billion went to Mexico (the biggest recipient).  Other important destinations, for our purposes, are Guatemala ($5.9 billion), El Salvador ($3.98 billion), the Dominican Republic ($3.83 billion), and Honduras ($3.2 billion).  All totaled, $40.9 billion was sent from the U.S. to Mexico and Central America.

Now, we can’t assume that only illegal immigrants send remittances, so I will estimate that first generation immigrants and illegal immigrants send remittances at the same frequency.  This will provide us with an (intentionally) low estimate for remittances paid by illegal immigrants to Mexico and Central America alone.

Given that there are 11.7 million legal immigrants from Mexico, and 3.1 million from Central America living in the U.S.A., this gives as a pool of 14.8 million legal immigrants contributing to the remittance figures.  We also know that 74 percent of illegal immigrants are from Mexico or Central America, or 8.14 million.  This means that of the total Hispanic population assuming to be paying remittances, 35 percent are likely illegal immigrants.  This works out to illegals paying out $14.31 billion to the region annually.

If we narrow this down to California, where 27 percent of total illegal immigrants live, then we can determine that Californian illegal immigrants remit $3.86 billion every year to Mexico and Central America.  This is to say nothing of the other nearly 1 million illegal immigrants, most of whom overstayed their visas, which would add significantly to this figure.

Crimes Committed By Illegal Immigrants: $4.4 Billion

The additional costs imposed by crimes committed by illegal immigrants, which include policing, court, and incarceration costs, add up to $4.4 billion, according to the study done by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.  This includes an additional $1.85 billion for policing, $1.12 billion for court services, and $1.54 billion for prisons.

As significant as this is, it doesn’t begin to approach the true costs of crime, which should rightly factor in lost productivity and wages, and intangible costs such as pain and suffering, long-term social costs (such as a reduction in community cohesion etc.).  The list goes on and on.

These intangible costs (which are never included in such studies because of their vagueness) are likely significantly higher than the tangible costs.  For example, a study from the National Institutes of Health estimates the average intangible cost of crimes in California (2008 dollars), and shows that the real cost of crime is much higher than the “face value” cost—especially for violent and sexual crimes.

The intangible costs are estimated based on special damages awarded by court proceedings.  Here they are summarized:

Type of Offense Tangible Cost Intangible Cost Total Cost
Murder $1,285,146 $8,442,000 $8,982,907
Rape/Sexual Assault $41,252 $199,642 $240,776
Aggravated Assault $19,472 $95,023 $107,020
Robbery $21,373 $22,575 $42,310
Arson $16,429 $5,133 $21,103
Motor Vehicle Theft $10,534 $262 $10,772
Stolen Property $7,974 N/A $7,974
Household Burglary $6,169 $321 $6,462
Embezzlement $5,480 N/A $5,480
Forgery and Counterfeiting $5,265 N/A $5,265
Fraud $5,032 N/A $5,032
Vandalism $4,860 N/A $4,860
Larceny/Theft $3,523 $10 $3,532

Were we to include intangible costs, even doubling the stated figure of $4.4 billion would probably understate the situation.

Frankly, I think the number’s probably higher in terms of tangible costs, given that the proportional percent of crimes committed by illegal immigrants is high.  For example, almost 75 percent federal drug possession sentences were given to illegal immigrants, and 40 percent of all federal crimes were committed in jurisdictions neighboring the Mexican border—meaning they were likely due to gang and drug trafficking committed by illegal immigrants.

Simply put, the statistics show that illegal immigrants dramatically increase crime rates.

Beyond that, illegal immigrants are highly over-represented in murder charges, committing 38 percent of all murders in California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and New York.  We’ll stick with $4.4 billion as our ballpark, but it’s probably at least double that.

Government Administration & Services: $1.6 Billion

Added strain caused by the illegal immigrant population costs California $1.6 billion a year.  Included in this number are things like the upkeep of parks, public recreation areas, libraries, roads, fire departments, and $792 million in state welfare handouts.

This number doesn’t include intangible costs of systemic strain, such as longer lines, busier parks etc.  This contributes to the quality of life, but can’t easily be measured.  It also doesn’t include the spillover impact on American citizens who need public assistance but can’t get it, because illegal immigrants are milking the system.

For example, roughly 1.5 million citizens spend over half their income on shelter in California—housing is expensive because illegal immigrants compete in the property market, inflating costs.  You never hear about this, but the cost of living is increased due to illegal immigration.

Tax Revenue: $3.5 Billion

Illegal immigrants do pay taxes, including sales taxes and (sometimes) payroll taxes.  It’s estimated that they contribute $3.5 billion in taxes to California’s state revenue.  This isn’t even close to what they withdraw in terms of services.

Annual Cost Of Illegal Immigration To California: $30.29 Billion

Illegal aliens cost California $30.29 billion every single year—this includes their contribution in terms of taxes.  This works out to $7,352 per migrant.

Furthermore, these estimates are likely low because they do not include any intangible costs associated with crime or increased systemic strain, they low-ball remittance estimates, and the number of illegal aliens in California is probably double the figures used.

The situation in California is increasingly dire.  Soon even the State’s most “progressive” voters will be faced with a choice: aliens or themselves?  Us or them?  Necessity has a way of simplifying things.


About Spencer P Morrison 160 Articles
J.D. B.A. in Ancient & Medieval History. Writer and independent intellectual, with a focus on applied philosophy, empirical history, and practical economics. Author of "Bobbins, Not Gold," Editor-In-Chief of the National Economics Editorial, and contributor to American Greatness. His work has appeared in publications including the Daily Caller, the American Thinker, and the Foundation for Economic Education.