Trump’s Wall Costs $21 Billion; Illegal Immigration Costs $148 Billion Yearly—Do The Math

donald trump border wall prototype

Illegal Aliens Cost The US $148 Billion A Year, The Border Wall Costs $21.6 Billion

President Donald Trump announced that he will fulfill his campaign promise to build a nearly 2,000 mile long wall—not a fence—along America’s southern border with Mexico.

The idea is that a physical barrier will act as a relatively low-cost deterrent, and will staunch the flow of illegal immigrants entering America via Mexico.  Furthermore, it will act as a powerful symbol which cannot easily be destroyed by subsequent administrations.

Although walls are a simple and time-tested strategy—China’s Great Wall did it’s job, so too did Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Britain—the project has been under attack from the mainstream media.  They claim that (1) the wall will be prohibitively expensive, (2) that illegal immigrants contribute to America’s economy, and therefore there’s no reason to deport them, and (3) that the wall won’t work.

Of course, as is so often the case, the media is objectively wrong on all three points.  Let’s look at the facts.

How Much Will Trump’s Border Wall Cost? $21.6 Billion.



The first question we must address is very straightforward: how much would it cost to build a wall along the Mexican border?  We don’t know for sure (construction costs rarely align with initial estimates), but we have a few good estimates.

To begin with, Senate leader Mitch McConnell say Congress estimates the wall will cost $15 billion at most, and that the final cost will likely fall within a range of $12 to $15 billion.

However, according to more recent information acquired by Reuters, the border wall will cost $21.6 billion, and will take roughly 3.5 years to build.  This is according to a document from the Department of Homeland Security.  It’s probably our best current estimate, and this article will proceed under using this cost assumption.

On the high end the Huffington Post reports that the wall will cost roughly $40 billion.  This estimate is based on a study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Given the likelihood of cost overruns when it comes to government construction projects, this high figure cannot be completely ignored.

In any case, the cost of the wall pales in comparison to the cost imposed on American taxpayers by illegal immigrants.  In fact, illegal aliens cost the State of California alone over $30 billion a year, and cost Texas $12 billion annually.  California could pay for the wall by itself with the money it shells out in welfare for its illegal alien population—never mind the rest of the country.

The Annual Cost Of Illegal Immigration to America? $148 Billion.

In calculating the cost of illegal immigration, the first question we must ask is “how many aliens currently reside in America?” In all honesty, no one really knows—they’re undocumented.

All I can give you are some estimates.  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, who based the figure off of banking and remittance payment records, government service demand, and migration projections from the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Frankly, I think the math makes much more sense with the high estimate, but in the interests of neutrality, we will proceed with the low estimate of 11.1 million illegal aliens.

Given this assumption, illegal immigration costs America some $148 billion annually—not to mention the other economic problems it causes, like wage stagnation and unemployment for American workers.  The costs break down as follows:

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates that the federal government spends a total of $28.6 billion on illegal immigrants annually.  This figure includes expenses like educational subsidies ($2.1 billion), healthcare costs ($5.9 billion, of which $750 million goes to Obamacare subsidies), and justice costs etc.

While this is significant, the brunt is born by local and state governments, which pay $93.3 billion annually.  The bulk of this is education for illegal immigrants and their children, various welfare programs (particularly subsidized housing), and policing.

After adjusting for inflation (the FAIR report is a few years old) as per Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can estimate that the US government spends some $125 billion on illegal immigrants annually.  This is slightly mitigated by the fact that migrants contribute $14.9 billion in federal, state, and local taxes (inflation-adjusted).

In addition to government spending, illegal aliens drain America’s wealth vis-a-vis remittances (money sent abroad by someone working in the US).  This is no paltry sum: remittances sent by illegal aliens cost America $38 billion a year.  This money is drained from local economies, and is part of the reason so many areas of America’s southwest are facing a liquidity crisis.

All totaled, illegal immigration costs America roughly $148 billion annually.

“But We Need Illegal Immigration To Grow The Economy”

Liberals often justify their fetish for illegal immigration along economic lines, arguing that: “we need illegals to do the jobs Americans won’t do”.  This is patently untrue, and is easily debunked by the simple fact that America’s labor market is far from saturated.

In fact, fewer than 150 million Americans (out of a population of 320 million) are employed—either part or full time.  Furthermore, there are 23 million Americans currently looking for work, that is, twice the number of illegal aliens in the country.  Even if we assume that every illegal alien was employed, replacing them with American workers would still leave 11 million Americans unemployed.

labor force participation chart

Beyond the raw numbers, it is also patently false that “illegals do jobs Americans won’t do”—they simply cannot do them because they are out-competed with cheap illegal labor.  If you read this document published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will find that millions of Americans—of all races—currently work as janitors, laborers, and agricultural workers.

In fact, only four percent of American agricultural workers are illegal aliens, according to a report in the National Review, putting to bed the myth that we would starve without illegal laborers.  Americans will do the jobs, provided they are paid a fair wage.

Believe it or not, states without illegal immigrants, like Montana or Ohio, are not economic backwaters with exorbitantly high costs of living—people in Idaho can still afford McDonald’s and Starbucks, they just pay teenagers to work the drive-thrus.  In fact, the cost of living in said states is often cheaper, because their governments do not require high taxes to subsidize legions of illegal aliens

We must also consider the opportunity costs—what else could our tax dollars buy?  Rather than spending billions on illegals, we could rebuild our ailing infrastructure.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, America’s infrastructure deficit will reach $3.6 trillion by 2020.

Furthermore, poor infrastructure also costs the economy money.  For example, traffic jams cost America $124 billion a year—almost as much as illegals aliens.  If the government stopped spending on illegal immigrants, it could cut our infrastructure deficit in half by 2020, and save the economy hundreds of billions on traffic jams and airport delays—not to mention the headaches.

It is also worth mentioning that America is the only Western nation, until very recently, that imports millions of illegal immigrants to work in its service sector—other rich nations like Japan and Canada, do not.  Yet despite this, the GDP per capita of Japan has actually grown faster than America’s during the same period.  The same is true of Canada and Australia.

If illegal immigration is such a boon to America, why are Americans being left behind by states without this “advantage”?

Japan vs USA GDP per capita

Will Trump’s Border Wall Work? Yes.

The final question is whether or not Trump’s wall with Mexico will work, because if it doesn’t, the whole argument is pointless.

The answer: yes.  The wall will work.

The Berlin Wall was effective in East Germany, and the anti-migrant wall in Hungary is likewise proving effective.  On top of that, Israel’s recent border wall with Egypt stopped 99 percent of migrant crossings—even Mexico has a wall along its southern border to keep Central Americans out.  Walls are timeless, and ruthlessly effective.

Donald Trump’s wall is a good investment.  It will help ensure that once illegal immigrants (particularly criminals) are deported, they won’t be coming back.  And perhaps more importantly, subsequent administrations will not easily be able to dismantle it.

Illegal aliens cost America $148 billion every single year.  If we can even cut that down by a third, the wall will pay for itself within months.  It’s time we built the wall.

About Spencer P Morrison 135 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.