What Would Donald Trump's Immigration Plan Cost?

Businessman Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls as the media spotlight remains focused on his campaign. Trump has been especially outspoken on immigration but only recently has he outlined his plans in a formal policy paper available via his website.


The paper elaborates on "core principles" that Trump asserts will lead to "real immigration reform." Although the plan includes one verifiable savings and could also lead to possible but indeterminate additional welfare-related savings, the plan would also require $6.6 billion in spending increases per year, or a net of $32.7 billion over the next five years.

  • Southern Border Wall: “There must be a wall across the southern border.”

Cost: $2.52 billion per year ($12.6 billion over five years)

Notes: According to reports, 650 miles of fencing have been constructed along the southern border, 350 miles of which is pedestrian fencing. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that vehicular fencing along the southwest border would cost about $1 million per mile on average while pedestrian fencing would cost about $3.9 million. The report also notes, "However, once contracts were awarded, the average per mile costs had increased to $6.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing and $1.8 million per mile for vehicle fencing … the per mile costs increased over time due to various factors, such as property acquisition costs incurred for these miles that were not a factor for many of the previous miles and costs for labor and materials increased."

Based on that pedestrian-related figure, fencing across the remaining 1,283 miles of border, could cost upwards of $8.3 billion.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandated the completion of 700 miles of double-layer fencing but to date just 36.3 miles meet this requirement. Building an additional 663.7 miles of layered fencing could add another $4.3 billion to the total cost.

It is unknown exactly how long it would take to complete fencing across the entire border and to what degree difficult terrain or negotiations with private landowners could increase costs. Between 2008 and 2010, much of 225 miles of a pedestrian fencing project was completed, a rate of less than 75 miles per year. However, until more information becomes available from the candidate, NTUF assumes Trump will prioritize and expedite the construction in order to complete the project within five years.

Trump proposes to pressure the Mexican government into paying for the border wall by impounding remittances, increasing fees on work visas and at U.S./Mexican ports of entry, and potentially imposing tariffs or cutting foreign aid until the wall’s costs are covered. It is unknown exactly what combination of these policies Trump would employ to offset this new spending.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): “Triple the Number of ICE officers.”

Cost: $2.167 billion per year ($10.834 billion over five years)

Notes: In FY 2015 there were 7,539 full-time equivalents in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Detention and Removal Operations division. Trump cites Congressional testimony stating that “only approximately 5,000 officers and agents within ICE perform the lion’s share of ICE’s immigration mission.” H.R. 2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (113th Congress) would have provided for the hiring of an additional 5,000 deportation officers, 700 support staff, and 60 trial attorneys at a cost of $5.4 billion over five years. NTUF doubled this figure to determine the cost of tripling the number of ICE officers.

  • Tax Credit Payments to Illegal Immigrants: “[Tripling the number of ICE officers] will be funded by accepting the recommendation of the Inspector General for Tax Administration and eliminating tax credit payments to illegal immigrants.”

Cost: -$1.186 billion per year (-$5.929 billion over five years) Savings

Notes: The 2011 report cited by Trump found that $4.2 billion in refundable credits were paid to individuals who were not authorized to work in the United States. These individuals were not eligible for Social Security numbers and so each were assigned an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) which enabled them to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit, a “refundable” credit that can be claimed above and beyond a filer’s income tax liability.

An early version of H.R. 3630 in the 112th Congress would have required that filers have a Social Security number in order to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined this would reduce outlays by $5.929 billion over five years.

  • E-Verify: “Nationwide e-verify.”

Cost: $127 million per year ($635 million over five years)

Notes: In 2013, CBO reported that a mandatory E-Verify system would cost $635 million over five years.

  • Immigration Enforcement: “Mandatory return of all criminal aliens. … Illegal aliens apprehended crossing the border must be detained until they are sent home, no more catch-and-release.”

Cost: $2.882 billion ($14.412 billion over five years)

Notes: In addition to expanding the number of ICE deportation officers, H.R. 2278 would also have provided State Criminal Alien Assistance Program grants to state and local governments to cover the costs related to incarcerating undocumented aliens convicted or charged with certain crimes. The bill would permit states and localities to seek reimbursement from the Department of Homeland Security for transportation costs relating to deportable aliens, which CBO determined would eventually cost $2.5 billion per year. CBO estimates the total amount of grants to states would cost $14.412 billion over five years.

  • Visa Tracking System: “Completion of a visa tracking system – required by law but blocked by lobbyists – will be necessary as well.”

Cost: $40 million per year ($120 million over three years)

Notes: The Homeland Security Act of 2002 authorizes and directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to expand its Visa Security Program to each diplomatic and consular post at which visas are issued. A September 2014 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General showed that only 20 of 225 such visa-issuing posts had review units, and no expansion requests were pending. The Fiscal Year 2012 budget included $4.4 million to be spent over two years to expand the program, but ICE has yet to complete the expansions.

H.R. 2278 (113th Congress) would provide $120 million over three years to expand the visa security program to designated overseas locations.

  • Immigration Reform: “End birthright citizenship.”

    Notes: It is likely that this policy, along with the increased border security proposals listed above, would reduce welfare-related expenditures, but an estimate is indeterminate.

In addition to these spending proposals, Trump’s immigration plan includes various regulatory measures such as reducing the number of visas offered in any given year, increasing the "prevailing wage" for H-1B visas, requiring companies to hire more American workers, and "increas[ing] standards for the admission of refugees and asylum-seekers". He would also increase penalties, which are generally recorded in the budget as revenues, on individuals who remain in the United States past the expiration of their visas.