Trump Says Illegal Immigration Has Cost Billions This Month — But Here Are The Facts

by Morgan Brinlee
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has often punctuated his argument for a border wall with unsupported claims about the high cost of illegal immigration, citing numbers that often don't align with experts' estimates. More often than not, Trump's argument seems to be that his $5.6 billion border wall will pay for itself by bringing down the supposedly sky-high cost of illegal immigration. On Sunday, as his fight for border-wall funding continued, Trump claimed illegal immigration had cost $18 billion this year alone.

"We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168," Trump tweeted Sunday without providing any evidence to support his claim. "Cost Friday was $603,331,392."

It's not clear where the president is getting these numbers, although Bustle has reached out to the White House for clarification on Trump's source.

Of course, this isn't the first time Trump has floated out seemingly unsupported numbers about the cost of illegal immigration. Near the end of December, NBC News reported that Trump had told Cabinet officials he'd "heard" the United States loses "numbers as high as $275 billion" on illegal immigration. "The $5 billion, $5.6 billion approved by the House is such a small amount compared to the level of the problem," the news outlet quoted him as having said.

A few weeks earlier, Trump had claimed that, "Illegal immigration costs the United States more than 200 Billion Dollars a year" while in early December his estimate was "$250 billion per year." He's even claimed it was $285 billion. But all of those estimates are a significant jump from the $130 billion he claimed illegal immigration cost the country while campaigning in August 2015 for the 2016 presidential election.

What's more, many immigration experts and organizations — even those who share some of Trump's conservative views on immigration policy — seem baffled by Trump's numbers. Cato Institute immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh told Business Insider he had "no idea" where the president got his $200 billion-a-year estimate. "It seems to be conjured out of thin air," Nowrasteh said. "I haven't seen any fiscal cost estimates, either reputable or disreputable, that place the number at $200 billion per year."

Migration Policy Institute's director for research for U.S. programs, Randy Capps, told NBC News that Trump's $200 billion estimate "does seem inflated" (not to mention his $250 billion or $275 billion claims).

In December, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a non-profit that touts itself as "the leader in the fight to end illegal immigration," told the Associated Press they were "not sure where the president got his numbers" when asked about Trump's $250 billion claim. In 2017, FAIR estimated that illegal immigration cost the country $135 billion a year, according to the Arizona Republic.

On Sunday, the president also claimed that the number of people living illegally in the United States was more than double what had long been reported. "There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country," he tweeted, without providing evidence. "So ridiculous!" Although Trump's sourcing was unclear, a "DHS" added to the end of Trump's tweet may have been an attempt to cite the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

However, in December 2018 a report published by the DHS estimated that there were 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in January 2015, the most recent year that data is available for. Estimates from non-government sources, like the Pew Research Center, were even lower, placing the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States in 2016 at 10.7 million. A paper released in 2018 by a researcher at both Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) appeared closer to Trump's, estimating that there were 22.1 million undocumented immigrants residing in the country in 2016.

While Trump has agreed to end the partial government shutdown with a three-week funding bill, it's unclear if congressional Democrats will be convinced to hand over the more than $5 billion he wants for a border wall by unsupported — and ever changing — claims about the cost of illegal immigration.