We’re learning more about the costs — direct and indirect — of the mass influx of unaccompanied minors and other illegal immigrants across our southwestern border, and the news is becoming more and more concerning.
At a closed-door briefing with members of Congress earlier this week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson disclosed some of the direct costs. According to members of Congress who attended, Johnson said the federal government is spending between $250 and $1,000 per day, per child, to house and feed the minors. When you are talking about more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors already in the country and needing assistance — and U.S. officials predicting that another 30,000 will cross the border by September — you don’t need a calculator to see that the ongoing and future costs are enormous.
As everyone knows, our federal government is cash-strapped. Some people may say we’ve been racking up huge budget deficits for years, and these costs will add just a little bit more to those deficits. That reaction ignores the reality of our financial situation. Every dollar of our deficit is financed through the issuance of U.S. government bonds and notes. Do we really want to have to issue more bonds and notes to pay for these services, and pledge the full faith and credit of our country for them? With our current budget situation, the inescapable reality is that we will be borrowing more in the future to pay the interest on these bonds and notes — which means that we’ll be paying directly out of pocket for our border problems for years to come.
There are indirect costs as well. The U.S. government can’t house all of these minors on military bases, and already we’re seeing governors and mayors raising questions about whether these minors are coming to their states and communities — where they will need more housing, and food, and medical care, and attention. Who will pay for it? The NIMBY (not in my back yard) phenomenon is in full swing. Pennsylvania’s governor has expressed concern about whether the illegal immigrants have infectious diseases, says there should be enough room on military bases in Texas and Arizona to house them, and wonders how he will pay for the needed services if they are sent to Pennsylvania. Officials in other states are saying that the federal government has resettled some of the immigrants in their states without providing adequate notice to local authorities. And officials in cities as far away from the border as New Bedford, Massachusetts are concerned that an influx of impoverished, non-English-speaking immigrants will further strain governmental and school budgets that are already stretched to the breaking point.
A Massachusetts sheriff recently said, “we are all border states now.” There’s some truth to that. It’s becoming increasingly clear that our porous border is creating huge problems for communities and states across the country. As we figure out how to deal with these unaccompanied minors, we also need to pay attention to the root cause of the problem — a border that sometimes seems to be little more than a line on a map. We can’t afford to pay $250 or $1,000 a day to care for every child that crosses illegally into our country, and we also can’t afford the security risks of a border that permits them (and adults, too) to do so. The Obama Administration and Congress need to figure out how to close that border and do it before the costs and consequences become overwhelming.