The True Cost of Deportation Policies

Supporters of the DREAM Act, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., third from right, wait to be arrested while performing an
Supporters of the DREAM Act, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., third from right, wait to be arrested while performing an act of civil disobedience at a rally for supporting the DREAM Act and immigration reform outside the White House in Washington, on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Americans are learning about a reality that immigrant families and communities have known about for some time: there has been a monumental rise in policies to deport the men and women who are living, working, and raising families in this country. Earlier this week, the Migration Policy Institute issued a report that shined a spotlight on just how much our federal government spends each year to detain and deport immigrants. Their findings are staggering: funding for these programs, which are housed under the Department of Homeland Security, dwarfs spending on the FBI, the Secret Service, and all other federal law enforcement combined.

What the Migration Policy Institute did not, and could not, quantify was the societal cost we all incur when a routine traffic stop turns a worker's commute into a one-way trip out of the country she has made her home. The study did not consider the psychological cost we place upon U.S. citizen children whose studies are adversely affected because they worry about whether their mother will be able to pick them up from school.

This report chronicled the rise of a formidable immigration enforcement machine that came to life as a result of the immigration laws of 1986 and 1996, and rapidly expanded in the wake of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. This machine has allowed the federal government to deport individuals at unprecedented levels; records show that more than 400,000 people were banished from the country in the last year alone. Among these are tens of thousands of parents, men and women who will now miss birthdays, Thanksgivings, and other celebrations with their children.

Those costs are impossible to estimate: how much is a mother's presence at a birthday worth? What price would you put on a loved one's participation in life's daily challenges and celebrations? These costs extend beyond the immediate family. Each working parent who is deported takes her ability to provide economically for her children with her, removing dollars that would otherwise have been spent in communities and local economies across the country.

A $17.9 billion price tag on federal deportation policies is evidence that our taxpayer dollars are being misallocated and that our priorities as a nation are off. At a time when our nation is about to embark upon a serious immigration reform debate, we must acknowledge that the true cost of these deportation policies will only continue to grow unless we create a process for the 11 million aspiring citizens who live and work in this country to apply for citizenship. We now know what some people's insatiable appetite for deportations costs, both financially and at societal level, and we should be shocked by the bill.

Millions of Latino, Asian American, and immigrant voters have demanded that Washington create a process for those who are American at heart to become Americans on paper. We can no longer allow the same members of our communities -- parents, youth, students, workers, and others -- who should benefit from a roadmap to citizenship to be subjected to policies that result in their deportation. The cost -- to our values, our communities, and economy -- is simply too high.