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Who pays the cost of helping young undocumented immigrants?

August 11, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Undocumented immigrants at UCLA gathered near the campus to have their own graduation prior to the university ceremony. Many are now eligible for a temporary stay of deportation.
Undocumented immigrants at UCLA gathered near the campus to have their… (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los…)

The anger over President Barack Obama’s policy granting young undocumented immigrants temporary permission to stay in the U.S. shows no signs of subsiding. 

Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), have accused the administration of granting a backdoor amnesty to the young immigrants who qualify. Now those same critics are accusing the president of forcing taxpayers to pay for the program. Under the policy, known as deferred action, immigrants who came to the U.S. before they were 16, have lived here for at least five years, have no criminal history, are 31 or younger and meet certain educational requirements can apply for temporary work permits and identification.  Homeland Security officials will begin accepting applications next week.

But it seems that opponents who are eager to shoot down the plan have overlooked one key fact. The agency that handles all immigration related visas and applications is self-funded, and has been since 1986. In fact, the bulk of U.S. Citizenship and Customs' budget comes from fees paid by immigrants. For example, in fiscal 2011 nearly $2.4 billion of the agency's $2.8 billion budget was financed through fee revenue, according to congressional testimony.

Federal officials have said the new plan will also pay for itself by requiring applicants to pay a $465 paperwork fee. And it seems federal law requires it too.

Still, that doesn't mean the administration shouldn't be forced to answer some real questions. For example, the Associated Press reported that the federal government estimated that the program could cost between $467 million and $585 million to process applications in its first two years. Those calculations include hiring additional employees. The revenue from fees paid by immigrants was estimated at $484 million.

On the other hand, some advocates say the policy will pay for itself and them some. They calculate that some 1.75 million immigrants could apply over the next two years and that could generate more than $800 million – exceeding the estimated costs of running the program.

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