Nativist group Center for Immigration Studies and right-wing media outlets touted a deeply flawed and misleading study in order to corroborate top Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s claim that President Donald Trump’s proposal for the construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border would “pay for itself.” Right-wing media's promotion of the flawed study was an attempt to legitimize the Trump administration’s misinformation about undocumented immigrants while also lifting up an anti-immigrant nativist group.
White House Representative Stephen Miller Claims Trump’s Border Wall “Will Pay For Itself”
Miller: A Wall On The U.S. Southern Border “Will Pay For Itself Many, Many, Many Times Over.” On the February 12 edition of ABC’s This Week, President Donald Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller baselessly claimed that Trump’s border wall proposal, which is expected to cost at least $21.6 billion, “will pay for itself many, many, many times over.” Miller attempted to justify his assertion by insisting that undocumented immigration “costs our country ... about $100 billion a year”:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (HOST): The executive order, just to be clear, puts as a priority that goes beyond those who have committed crimes. It basically says that anyone subject to a deportation order now can be removed. I do want to move on, though, as well because we've got this report in the DHS right now saying that the cost of the wall is likely to be above $20 million dollars. It’s almost three times what the president said on the campaign trail. One, how much is the wall going to cost? The president says he's going to bring the cost down. And can you guarantee that Mexico will pay?
STEPHEN MILLER: Well, he can bring the cost of the wall down, and he will. And there are many, many ways that we can obtain payment for the wall from our friends to the south. But, the more important point about what you're asking, and I'm so glad you've brought this up. The media has done story after story after story about the cost of building a security wall on the southern border. I can't remember a time, George, and correct me if I'm wrong, that anyone in the media has ever done a story about the cost of amnesty, about the cost of not enforcing our laws, or the cost of illegal immigration. This is really quite remarkable. It's estimated that illegal immigration costs our country -- state, local, and federal benefits -- about $100 billion dollars a year. Stopping new illegal immigration, preventing the effects that will have on our schools, on our hospitals, on our welfare system, on our wage earners, will save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. This wall will pay for itself many, many, many times over. And it's just astonishing to me that the media is so interested in how much it costs to secure our border and has no interest in the cost of refusing to secure our border. [ABC, This Week, 2/12/17]
Center For Immigration Studies Publishes Skewed Report Seeming To Support Miller’s Claim
CIS Report: “If A Wall Stopped Half” Of Undocumented Immigrants, “It Would Save Taxpayers Nearly $64 Billion.” On February 16, four days after Miller gave his This Week interview, Dr. Stephen Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) -- which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a nativist organization -- issued a problematic, flawed report to bolster Miller’s claim. From the CIS report:
The findings of this analysis show that if a border wall stopped a small fraction of the illegal immigrants who are expected to come in the next decade, the fiscal savings from having fewer illegal immigrants in the country would be sufficient to cover the costs of the wall. This analysis takes the likely education level of illegal border-crossers and applies fiscal estimates developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) for immigrants by education level.
Based on the NAS data, illegal border-crossers create an average fiscal burden of approximately $74,722 during their lifetimes, excluding any costs for their U.S.-born children. If a border wall stopped between 160,000 and 200,000 illegal crossers — 9 to 12 percent of those expected to successfully cross in the next decade — the fiscal savings would equal the $12 to $15 billion cost of the wall.1
- If a wall stopped half of those expected to successfully enter illegally without going through a port of entry at the southern border over the next 10 years, it would save taxpayers nearly $64 billion — several times the wall's cost. [Center for Immigration Studies, February 2017; Southern Poverty Law Center, 1/31/09]
Right-Wing Media Broadcasted This Shoddy Analysis To Their Audiences
Breitbart: If The Wall “Stops Only A Small Fraction Of Illegal Aliens,” It Would “Easily Cover The Cost Of The Wall.” Breitbart seized upon the CIS study, reporting that “even a minimally effective border wall that stopped less than ten percent of illegal crossings would save the U.S. billions,” but failing to verify the validity of the report. From the February 16 article:
The non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), using the estimated education level of illegal alien border crossers and immigrant education estimates from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), found that each illegal alien entering the U.S. racks up at least $74,722 in lifetime costs, funded by American taxpayers.
Even a minimally effective border wall that stopped less than ten percent of illegal crossings would save the U.S. billions. “If a border wall stopped between 160,000 and 200,000 illegal crossers—nine to 12 percent of those expected to successfully cross in the next decade—the scaled savings would equal the $12 to $15 billion cost of the wall,” Camarota writes. Approximately 170,000 illegal aliens crossed into the U.S. without going through a port of entry in 2015, according to a study commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security. “[T]here may be 1.7 million successful crossings in the next decade. If a wall stopped just 9 to 12 percent of these crossings it would pay for itself,” the CIS report states. [Breitbart, 2/16/17]
LifeZette: The CIS Study Is “Somewhat Conservative In Its Cost Estimates.” LifeZette attempted to legitimize CIS’ flawed study, claiming that it was “somewhat conservative in its cost estimates” but also conceding that “the study deals with many hypotheticals.” It also suggested that the wall “might not only stop people from crossing the border but deter them from even trying” without providing evidence for the claim. From the February 16 article:
If a border wall along the Mexican border stops only a fraction of illegal immigrants, taxpayers could save more money than the barrier would cost, according to a study released Thursday.
The study released Thursday is somewhat conservative in its cost estimates. It does not count the costs of U.S.-born children.
The study deals with many hypotheticals. The National Academies report, for instance, includes eight different scenarios on the fiscal costs and benefits of immigrants at various education levels. Camarota said he used an average of those eight to make his projections. But he noted that all eight scenarios conclude that high school dropouts impose a net burden.
Camarota said there could be other, less expensive ways to slow illegal immigration without building a wall. President Donald Trump has proposed tracking down people who overstay their visas, ramping up interior enforcement, and making it harder for illegal immigrants to work in America.
But a wall might not only stop people from crossing border but deter them from even trying.
“That's the group, from a fiscal impact, that you really want to stop,” he said. [LifeZette, 2/16/17]
Fox Business Host Cheryl Casone Hosted CIS’ Camarota To Defend His Study. On the February 20 edition of Fox Business Network’s After the Bell, host Cheryl Casone hosted Camarota, bolstering his skewed research. [FoxNews.com, 2/20/17]
Wash. Times: The Border Wall “Would Pay For Itself By Saving American Taxpayers From Spending Money On Services” For Immigrants. In an attempt to justify the CIS report, The Washington Times wrote that “stopping just 200,000 border-jumpers over the next decade would save some $15 billion,” echoing Camarota’s shoddy research. [The Washington Times, 2/16/17]
Wash. Free Beacon: “A Border Wall Could Save US Taxpayers $64 Million Over The Next Decade.” Washington Free Beacon reported on Camarota’s interview on Fox Business Network, highlighting his skewed report and insisting that “the cost of an illegal immigrant accumulates” over time. [Washington Free Beacon, 2/21/17]
The CIS Study Has Significant Factual Flaws
Camarota’s Estimation Of Immigrant’s Use Of Government Benefits Is Based On A Debunked Study. The CIS report assumes that immigrants “receive far more in government benefits than they pay in taxes." That assertion comes from a Heritage Foundation study from 2013 by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine. The Cato Institute reviewed that report, concluding that it is “depressingly static, leading to a massive underestimation of the economic benefits of immigration and diminishing estimated tax revenue” because it “explicitly refuses to consider the GDP growth and economic productivity gains from immigration reform—factors that increase native-born American incomes.” It is also important to note that Richwine has a history of disseminating “fundamentally flawed” reports on immigration and has opined that Latinos may “never reach IQ parity” with white people. From the May 7, 2013, Cato Institute analysis of the Heritage Foundation report:
The new Heritage report is still depressingly static, leading to a massive underestimation of the economic benefits of immigration and diminishing estimated tax revenue. It explicitly refuses to consider the GDP growth and economic productivity gains from immigration reform—factors that increase native-born American incomes. An overlooked flaw is that the study doesn’t even score the specific immigration reform proposal in the Senate. Its flawed methodology and lack of relevancy to the current immigration reform proposal relegate this study to irrelevancy. [Cato Institute, 5/7/13; Media Matters, 6/2/16]
The Cost Of The Wall Will Be Much Higher Than The Report Estimates. CIS’ claims are based on some of the earliest estimates of the cost of the wall, creating a range based on Trump’s figure of $12 billion and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) estimate of $15 billion. A Reuters report based on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report estimated that the border wall “would cost as much as $21.6 billion.” The report also noted that another group, Bernstein Research, has pegged the cost at about $25 billion after taking into account “uncertainties around the project that could drive its cost up.” These estimates did not take into account the ongoing cost of maintaining the wall. From the February 9 Reuters article:
President Donald Trump's “wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The report accounted for the time and cost of acquiring private land, one reason for its steep price increase compared to estimates from Trump and members of Congress.
Bernstein Research, an investment research group that tracks material costs, has said that uncertainties around the project could drive its cost up to as much as $25 billion. [Reuters, 2/9/17]
The Report Places An Arbitrary And Overly Generous Number On The Wall’s Effectiveness. The CIS report discusses various figures for the number of people the wall might prevent from coming into the United States: “9 to 12 percent of those expected to successfully cross [the border] in the next decade,” and “half of those expected to successfully enter illegally” to claim that “it would save taxpayers nearly $64 billion,” even though there is no evidence to support either level of effectiveness. There have been a number of reports explaining that building a wall would be ineffective at stopping illegal immigration. The Cato Institute’s David Bier told Wired, “At a basic level, a wall or fence can never stop illegal immigration because a wall or fence cannot apprehend anyone.” The Wired report also explained that many immigrants “do not attempt to circumvent border control, but instead go to entry points willingly and seek asylum or other protections.” BBC explained that “it’s next to impossible to construct a wall that can’t be tunnelled under,” adding, “Since 1990, federal agents have discovered more than 200 tunnels under the existing border walls.” Additionally, as Forbes pointed out, “analysts believe the majority (possibly vast majority) of illegal immigrants enter America by air” because many “arrive in America with a visa - and then simply don't leave.” The Migration Policy Institute noted that a border wall would not deter immigrants fleeing poverty and execution but rather steer them “to alternative routes,” which would undoubtedly result in “an increase in the number of deaths.” Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) own estimates confirmed that finding, concluding that while there was a drop in apprehensions where a fence existed, “the drop there was followed by a spike in apprehensions” in other areas. CBP also found that breaches to the border fence in fiscal year 2010 cost the agency “at least $7.2 million to repair.” Experts including CBP officials, law enforcement officials along the southern border, senators, and former DHS secretaries have been vocal in their opposition to the wall, saying that it would be “of little or no value” and that it’s “one of the dumbest ideas.” [Wired, 1/19/17; BBC, 1/26/17; Forbes, 1/28/17; Migration Policy Institute, 10/5/16; Bloomberg, 2/13/17; Media Matters, 12/1/17; 9/1/16, The Hill, 7/13/16]
The Report Is Heavily Focused On Immigrants’ Low Educational Achievements, But The Education Gap Between Immigrants And Native-Born Americans Is Closing. A 2016 study from the NAS found that the education levels of recent immigrants are steadily increasing. While “the largest increases in educational attainment have occurred among immigrants from Mexico, China, and the group combining immigrants from Europe, Oceania, and Canada,” Latin American countries other than Mexico are also seeing an increase in education levels, the report stated. [National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 9/22/16]
And Miller's Claim That Undocumented Immigrants Cost The US “$100 Billion A Year” Relied On A Debunked FAIR Study
Immigration Expert: “The US Economy Comes Out Slightly Ahead Due To The Presence” Of Undocumented Immigrants. Miller’s claim that undocumented immigrants incur the U.S. a cost of $100 billion per year comes directly from a study by the SPLC-designated hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and, like many of FAIR’s studies, it has been debunked by other experts who study immigration. The FAIR report claimed that undocumented immigrants contribute “about $13 billion a year, resulting in a net cost to taxpayers of about $100 billion.” ABC News reported that the Immigration Policy Center disputed FAIR’s numbers, noting that its study overestimates the costs because “undocumented workers don't even qualify for unemployment or medical benefits.” The article explained that FAIR’s methodology was problematic because “simply weighing tax receipts against public spending doesn't show the full picture” and it’s not true that immigrants take jobs from American citizens. From the May 21, 2010, article:
Wendy Sefsaf, a spokeswoman for the Immigration Policy Center which favors a lenient immigration policy, says that conservative analysts overestimate the costs because undocumented workers don't even qualify for unemployment or medical benefits.
At the same time, those whose jobs are paid legally – at least fifty percent, by some estimates – end up paying social security and other payroll taxes without ever collecting benefits. Since illegal immigrants are believed to constitute up to 5 percent of the U.S. economy, their tax contributions will mean a revenue windfall for legal residents.
Advocates of more lenient immigration policies also disagree with the purely fiscal approach. Simply weighing tax receipts against public spending doesn't show the full picture, they say, since illegal immigrants also create tremendous economic value.
“Illegal immigrants are good for our economy,” says IPC's Sefsaf. “They make our labor force and our economy bigger. Sure, you could kick them all out, but then you would have to shrink the economy.”
Sefsaf also doesn't buy the traditional argument that illegal immigrants are stealing U.S. jobs: most legal residents work in middle-rung jobs and would not want to take low-paying jobs as fruit pickers or nannies.
After weighing the financial pros against the cons, she says the U.S. economy comes out slightly ahead due to the presence of illegal aliens. [Federation for American Immigration Reform, 7/6/10; ABC News, 5/21/10]
PolitiFact Also Debunked The Updated Version Of The Same FAIR Report. PolitiFact pointed out that the FAIR report ignored undocumented immigrants’ contributions in taxes, misleadingly based its estimates on an inflated number of 13 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., and relied on “empirically baseless” and “anecdotal information” to reach its conclusion. As Migration Policy Institute’s Michelle Mittelstadt told PolitiFact, “estimates that don’t factor in positive economic impacts by undocumented immigrants don’t tell the whole story.” In 2010, undocumented immigrants “paid a net $12 billion into the trust funds,” according to the Social Security Administration. [Federation for American Immigration Reform, August 2013; PolitiFact, 9/1/16; Media Matters, 12/28/16]
Right-Wing Media Also Widely Circulated FAIR’s Flawed Report Too
Trump Sycophant Sean Hannity Often Touts The $113 Billion Figure To Promote The Border Wall Proposal. On various occasions, Fox News host Sean Hannity has lifted up FAIR’s misleading statistics to warm his viewers to the idea of the border wall. [FoxNews.com, 2/22/17; Twitter, 7/7/15; PolitiFact, 9/1/16]
WND: There Is A “$100 Billion Recurring Annual Burden Placed On Taxpayers Due To The Provision Of Services To Illegal Aliens.” Citing FAIR’s misleading study, conservative website World News Daily claimed that “the fiscal and societal burdens heaped on U.S. citizens for governmental failure to take decisive action on illegal immigration is significantly costlier” than Trump’s proposed border wall. [WND.com, 2/5/17]
Daily Caller: “The Cost Of Harboring Illegal Immigrants In The United States Is A Staggering $113 Billion A Year.” The Daily Caller hyped the faulty FAIR report, quoting FAIR’s director of communications, Bob Dane, who claimed that despite overwhelming proof to the contrary, the study “is the first and most detailed look at the costs of illegal immigration ever done.” [The Daily Caller, 7/6/10]
RedState: “The Good Folks At FAIR” Estimate “That The Net Cost Of Illegal Immigration To The American Taxpayer Is Approximately $100 Billion.” A 2010 Red State article applauded FAIR for its report, saying, “Good for FAIR for trying to sort through this problem,” and ignoring the many flaws of the report’s methodology. [RedState.com, 7/9/10]