Donald Trump wants voters to remember that he's not just a misogynistic celebrity blowhard in an empty suit. He's also a businessman with businessman ideas about how to run the country.
But when it comes to the issue of immigration, Trump is proving he's not only a blathering xenophobe with unsophisticated policy proposals, he's also a lousy businessman.
Though Trump's immigration plan isn't expected to be released in any detail until later this week, he's already made clear that it's built on a foundation of ideas that makes for bad policy and careless economics. In fact, the pillars of the pre-candidate's proposal — mass deportation of 11.3 million undocumented immigrants (rough estimate, but as good as any) and construction of a border wall that can be seen from the moon — would cause such a suck on the economy that the effects would still be felt for years after Trump's inevitable one-term presidency ended.
The basic immigration plan peddled by Trump and the other wall-minded Republicans — Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal— would strangle revenue flows, stunt economic growth, spike salaries in the hospitality and construction sectors, and create massive expenses for U.S. taxpayers in the form of costly deportations and a pointless border wall that would never be too high to tunnel under.
So, the next time someone starts jabbering from the spleen about the ruinous influence of undocumented immigrants, here are five counterpoints to yell back at them in an equally crazy tone:
The argument that undocumented immigrants are "criminals" and/or "rapists" is so preposterous and unsubstantiated that it doesn't merit a serious response from any sane-minded person. But election season is crazy season, so let's do this. The truth is that most Latin American immigrants are — by necessity and definition— hardworking self-starters who are seeking some semblance of gainful employment to support themselves and families back home.
The proof is in the numbers. Remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean last year reached an an estimated $63 billion, with most of the money going to support families in Mexico and Central America, and most of it coming from the U.S., according to Inter-American Dialogue. Remittances grew faster than the U.S. economy as a whole, with Mexicans alone accounting for some $23.6 billion in money sent back to family last year.
To send that much money home on what — in many cases — is a minimum wage, suggests that most migrants are working such long, hard hours that they probably don't have enough free time to commit the types of heinous crimes that Trump frets about on the hustings.
That's not to say every immigrant is a good person, which is as silly as calling everyone a rapist. There's clearly a criminal element in any sizable population. But the point is, they're a statistical minority; only 20 percent of undocumented migrants deported during Obama's tenure were previously convicted of a serious crime, according to a New York Times analysis of government data.
The 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants living in the United States contribute an estimated $11.84 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. That's a conservative estimate based on 2012 numbers. It's now thought to be closer to $12.6 billion. The study, based on data from 50 states, calculates that comprehensive immigration reform would boost the U.S.' annual revenue flow by an additional $2.2 billion.
Deporting people isn't cheap in a country that endeavors to respect due process. The average estimated cost of deporting a single undocumented immigrant ranges wildly from $8,318 to $23,000, depending on who's doing the estimating. So that times 11.3 million people is… well, an almost unimaginably large price tag to fund the removal of every undocumented migrant.
Also, it's a fool's errand. The logistics of organizing a nationwide roundup of 11 million people — not to mention the lawsuits that would result from such an effort— are too insane to even contemplate. The Center For American Progress once estimated that the five-year cost of enforcing a mass deportation strategy in the U.S. would be $285 billion. A total cleansing of all undocumented immigrants would take approximately 20 years and cost U.S. taxpayers between $400 billion and $600 billion, according to a more recent study by the American Action Forum. We'd probably have to melt down the Statue of Liberty just to pay for it all, which is fine because we wouldn't need her services anymore.
The other cost of mass deportation is the loss of future GDP growth and the unintended economic consequences of creating sudden wage hikes by chasing more than 5 percent — 10 percent in some states— of the low-cost workforce out of the country. Mass deportation would drain the U.S. economy of some $2.5 trillion over 10 years, according to the 2010 study by the Center for American Progress. In contrast, promoting a path to legalization and other immigration reforms would boost the U.S.' economy by $1.5 trillion over that same period, according to the same study's estimates.
Pushing undocumented workers out the door would also have a dramatic effect on current wages. "Even if we could afford to spend the money to get rid of people, the immediate impact would be an increase in wages; suddenly [some employers] would have to go from paying workers $15/hour to $25/hour. And we're talking about 10 million people who work predominantly in the hospitality industry and construction industry," says Manuel Orozco, the Inter-American Dialogue's program director for Migration and Remittances. "It just doesn't add up."
With an estimated cost of $4 million per mile, building an additional 700 miles of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexican border would cost ….um, hold on one sec, carry the one, add three more zeros…about $2.8 billion. Also, immigrant labor — which currently represents some 20 percent of the construction labor force — won't be building that wall on the cheap, so you better plan to budget some extra coin to afford unionized U.S. bricklayers at $22/hour. In short, the per-mile cost of building the wall will be much more expensive than the per-mile cost of building a tunnel underneath it. El Chapo can recommend some guys who can do that job quickly and effectively.
In short, the type of ethnic cleansing that Trump proposes to "Make America Great Again" and return the country to that fabled, halcyon time in our country's past that exists only in the rants of slightly demented old white men, makes for screwy politics and boondoggle economics. But it's also helpful for voters because it offers, in one tidy argument, compelling proof to confirm our suspicions about Trump's competencies as a politician and businessman.
At the end of the day, despite Trump's best efforts to fix the country in his own image, America is made great by immigrants — and that includes the 11.3 million people who haven't been able to put their paperwork in order. That's what makes America America.