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Costs to Consider: Immigration Reform

Michael Tasselmyer
January 31, 2013

The 113th Congress is less than a month into its first session, but lawmakers have already spent significant time debating the next move in immigration reform. A commission of 8 Senators recently announced a proposal for legislation that would provide new pathways to legal citizenship for immigrants living illegally in the U.S. now, in exchange for additional border security and enforcement measures.

During the 2012 election season, NTUF used its BillTally research to analyze some Senate candidates’ campaign proposals regarding border security. There are generally three ways lawmakers address border security, and their costs vary:

  • Additional law enforcement: CBO estimated in 2007 that additional border patrol personnel would cost between $120,000 and $180,000 per agent. That range in today’s dollars is about $133,000 to $199,000.
  • Border fencing: A 2009 GAO report found that pedestrian fencing along the Southwest border cost nearly $6.5 million per mile, and $1.8 million per mile for vehicle fencing. Those figures included property acquisition and materials costs.
  • Drones and "virtual" fences: The most recent Selected Acquisition Report from the Department of Defense suggests that MQ-9 drones used by Customs and Border Protection run about $31 million per drone, including ground control equipment. Construction of the SBInet virtual fence was cancelled by DHS after $1 billion had been spent on 53 miles of fence.

As the range in cost estimates shows, comprehensive immigration reform is a complex policy issue that can affect a number of different budgetary functions. For more on BillTally, visit


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