NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The High Cost of Locking Up Aliens

June 8, 2001

Mid-1990s changes in immigration law and policy have led to many more immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- being put behind bars in the U.S. The costs to taxpayers are surprisingly steep.

  • Nearly 44,000 non-U.S. citizens are in federal prisons -- about half for immigration offenses such as sneaking into the country or using fake visas, and the other half are being detained while they await possible deportation or asylum.
  • Since the change in immigration law, the numbers in both categories have quadrupled.
  • Immigration cases that reach court are 20 percent of the federal criminal case load -- up from less than 6 percent in 1994 -- and in border states they constitute 45 percent of case loads.
  • Deportations, prosecutions and jailings cost American taxpayers at least $1 billion a year.

Officials report that nearly half of deportations are founded on arguably victimless crimes, violence accounts for about 25 percent and property crimes explain 7 percent.

Source: Brigid McMenamin, "Lockdown," Forbes, June 11, 2001.


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