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$10 Billion To Solve Immigration Just Isn’t Enough

Susan Walsh
Protesters block the streets near the Capitol in Washington after ending a 250-mile Walk to Stay Home from New York to Washington, in 2018. After marching across six states, the protesters held a rally in support of protection for DACA recipients.

Republican Peter King and Democrat Tom Suozzi have a “Grand Compromise” that will build the border wall, resolve the legal limbo for Dreamers, settle the political dispute over people with Temporary Protective Status, and bring millions of immigrants out from the shadows. All this without costing taxpayers anything.

The problem is it doesn’t add up.

King is a staunch Republican and firm defender of immigration enforcement, while Suozzi advocates to give undocumented youth a path to citizenship. Together, the pair is as unlikely as their proposal: trade funding for a physical barrier between the U.S. and Mexico in exchange for giving legal status to five million immigrants – TPS recipients who fled violence and natural disasters, people brought to the U.S. as children, and the families for both those groups. Each person would pay a $2,000 fee to qualify for protection.

“Part of the beauty of this proposal is the math,” Suozzi told WNYC. “Five million people. $2,000 a piece is $10 billion.”

Where to put $10 billion?

With $10 billion, the plan gives both Republicans and Democrats what they want. Suozzi and King estimate that $1.4 billion will come off the top for administering the program. The rest would be split: $4.3 billion for each party to fund their preferred methods for slowing immigration.

Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, called the plan “fascinating.”

“This is an exciting proposal because it’s a Democrat and Republican who come together to think out of the box.”

According to Selee, with a $10 billion dollar carrot, Suozzi and King can fund things that will bring reluctant lawmakers to the negotiating table. Republicans get a physical barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. Democrats can boost financial aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to prevent violence and prevent further migration.

But there’s a problem with the math.

“A drop in the bucket”

While $4.3 billion could roughly double10 years’ worth of the current foreign aid budget to these countries, experts say that’s just a drop in the bucket. According to one analysis, immigrants in the U.S. send four times that, $17 billion a year, to Central American countries in the form of remittance – and it still doesn’t stop people from migrating.

“We should not think of even $4.3 billion of aid as something that would be transformative in either economic or in security terms,” says Michael Clemens, a fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Clemens does call the plan a “political masterpiece” in its ability to bridge the distance in the current immigration debate. However, he says King and Suozzi don’t address the root cause of people leavingCentral America: a population bubble that has left so many youth jobless.

“What bothers me about this particular proposal is that there is no consideration of future flows of migrants through lawful pathways for that migration to occur.”

He says it will be another 10 years before that population boom stabilizes. In the meantime, he expects migrants to keep coming to the U.S.

Cost of the plan

Some critics of our immigration system say King and Suozzi greatly underestimate the cost of processing the five million applications.

“I did the math on this and I got closer to $3 billion. Not $1.4 billion,” says Jessica Vaughan, a policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration.

King and Suozzi don’t say how they arrived at an administrative cost of $1.4 billion, which is about $300 per application.

Vaughan says the best way to get a true cost of processing immigration applications is to compare what USCIS currently charges for processing a green card application – about $1,000.

Plus she adds, the lawmakers are suggesting fee waivers for those who can’t afford it.

“We know many of these people are low income. If you’re going to offer a fee waiver that means that either the applicants or taxpayers are going to have subsidizes the processing of these applications.”

First steps

Peter King readily acknowledges that their proposal is not the final answer. Instead, it’s one meant to start a meaningful discussion.

“While at first glance people may say wait a minute what are these two guys doing,” he says, “I think that if they take the time to look at it, which I think they will, others may start looking at it. And that’s what we’re hoping for.”

King and Suozzi plan to draft legislation in the coming weeks, and they are aware of how resistant their respective parties will be to parts of the proposal.

King’s prediction is that they will both be labeled “sellouts,” at least initially.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.