How Much Do Refugees Cost The U.S.? The Trump Admin Rejects Its Own Report On It

If there's anything Donald Trump has been fairly consistent about since taking office earlier this year, it's his negative attitude towards refugee resettlement. Within his first month in office, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at barring immigrants and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, an order that's been fought over in the courts ever since. And now, the Trump administration is challenging a report on refugees benefiting the economy, according to The New York Times.

Specifically, it's reportedly contesting the claims of a study from the Department of Health and Human Services, which cited figures that highlighted positive economic effects from the U.S. bringing refugees into the country. The actual draft report has not been released publicly, but a copy has reportedly been obtained by The New York Times, and it includes some details that the Trump administration ― long hostile and skeptical towards the notion of absorbing refugees from war-torn countries like Syria ― is not receptive towards.

Overall, it states that refugee programs have had a net positive effect on the U.S. economy, having brought in an estimated $63 billion more than they cost over a 10-year period. In sum, according to the Times, it found that refugees paid the government $269 billion in total revenue from the years 2005 through 2014.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller, 32, is reportedly one of the administration officials most opposed to welcoming additional refugees into the country, and he came down hard against the HHS study. On this issue, he largely agrees with his boss ― Trump himself has been rhetorically linking terrorism and refugee resettlement for more than a year, having first proposed a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the United States back in December 2015.

That call for an overarching, explicitly religious-based ban ultimately mutated into the administration's current executive order on immigration and refugees, which avoids explicitly billing it as a religious test. Nonetheless, the order has been challenged and ruled against in multiple federal courts, and could be on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The administration has reportedly challenged the HHS report on the grounds that a final report by the agency found that refugees had a higher per capita cost in terms of government benefits over a 10-year period. The study reportedly concludes that refugees cost about $3,300 in government services over a ten year period, as compared to U.S. citizens who cost about $2,500.

In an average year over the 10-year period, per-capita refugee costs for major H.H.S. programs totaled $3,300. Per-person costs for the U.S. population were lower, at $2,500, reflecting a greater participation of refugees in H.H.S. programs, especially during their first four years.

In short, some in the Trump administration seem ― assuming the veracity of these reports, to be clear ― to be focusing solely on an increased cost in government services of a mere $800 per person, while ignoring the finding that refugees have pumped an additional $269 billion into the economy over a 10-year period.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

White House spokesperson Raj Shah responded to the Times, citing that reported $800 increase in average costs to dismiss the report's findings about the billions of dollars of additional revenues:

This leak was delivered by someone with an ideological agenda, not someone looking at hard data. The actual report pursuant to the presidential memorandum shows that refugees with few skills coming from war-torn countries take more government benefits from the Department of Health and Human Services than the average population, and are not a net benefit to the U.S. economy.

This is sadly pretty predictable, given the administration's stridently negative tact on refugees. It may also hammer home the peril of using economic arguments to advance explicitly moral causes.

Even if refugees were costing the U.S. government a truly immense amount of money — which from the sounds of things they're not — that wouldn't say anything about the moral virtue and humanitarian necessity of giving them a new place to live their lives. Although, based on the administration's current posture on these issues, it might simply make no difference what style of arguments advocates for refugees are making, however convincing they might be.