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 roughly $30.29 billion per year in net costs.  This works out to $7,352 per illegal alien, or ~17.7 percent of California’s state budget.

Of course, many of these costs are absorbed by local jurisdictions and the federal government, but the drain on the State of California remains significant.  As such, the question is no longer whether California ought to allow illegal immigration—it’s whether the State can afford it.

Illegal immigration is expensive: two recent studies from the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the National Economics Editorial peg the annual cost of illegal immigration to America between $135 and $140 billion.  And of all the states, California bears the largest burden due to its sizable illegal population.

How Many Illegal Immigrants are in the State of California?

In all honesty, no one really knows how many illegal aliens reside in California—they’re undocumented.  All we can do is create reasonable estimates.  Let’s start at the national level: the estimates are wide-ranging.  On the low end, Pew Research estimates that the number of illegal immigrants in the US is roughly 11.1 million—this number tracks fairly closely with official government figures.

On the high end, estimates peg the number of illegal aliens in the US at roughly 30 million people.  This number has been proposed 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 ICE.

I think the true number of illegal immigrants is probably closer to what Coulter has in mind, but for the purposes of this article I will proceed using the lowest realistic number of illegal immigrants in America (11.1 million).

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.

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 at the low end of the labor market.

Calculating the Cost of Illegal Immigration in California

california classrooms are crowded
California’s classrooms are some of the most crowded in the country—classes are swollen by a large number of “anchor babies” and undocumented children.

Education for Illegal Immigrants & Anchor Babies: $15.63 Billion

As stated previously, there are 975,000 anchor babies and 130,000 undocumented children living in California.  This totals 1.105 million children—all 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 eat up $15.63 billion in educational costs.

This reduces the quality of education for American citizens, especially since California’s student-to-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-to-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 US 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 US 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 USA, this gives as a pool of 14.8 million legal immigrants contributing to the remittance figures.  We also know that 74% 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% 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% 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

40% of all federal crimes occur in states bordering Mexico.

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 which estimated the average intangible costs of crimes in California (2008 dollars) shows that the real cost is much higher than the calculated costs for most crimes—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 illegal immigrant.

These estimates are likely low, since they don’t 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 realistically at least double the numbers used.

How Do We Fix The Problems With Illegal Immigration?

Frankly, the only way to do it is to deport the illegal immigrants, starting with the criminals.

This is not a moral question, it’s a question of fact—California can’t continue to support a massive population of undocumented migrants on the public expense.  The costs are too great, and it’s seriously impacting the quality of life of America’s own people—particularly black and Hispanic American citizens, who often directly compete with illegal immigrants for jobs.

Deportation may sound bad, but it needs to happen.  And if we’re being honest, most would probably self-deport if California were to stop subsidizing their living expenses, and the government cracked down on employers who hire illegals.

No jobs, no welfare: no reason to stay.

The second element is to make sure we keep them out.  America needs to invest more in border security, and this includes a wall.  And to those who think walls don’t work, you’re sorely mistaken.  Walls worked in Israel.  Walls worked in Hungary.  And walls will work here.  There’s a reason the East Germans built the Berlin wall: it worked.


About Spencer P Morrison 126 Articles
BA in Ancient & Medieval History, JD. Writer and independent intellectual, with a focus on applied philosophy, empirical history, and practical economics. Author of "Bobbins, Not Gold" and Editor-In-Chief of the National Economics Editorial. His work has appeared in publications including the Daily Caller, the American Thinker, and American Greatness.