Trump’s Wall Costs $21.6 Billion; Illegal Immigration Costs $148.3 Billion Per Year—Do The Math

Illegal Aliens Cost The US $148.3 Billion A Year: The Border Wall Costs $21.6 Billion

President Donald Trump announced that he will fulfill his campaign promise to build a nearly 2,000 mile long wall (not a fence) along America’s southern border with Mexico.

The idea is that a physical barrier will act as a low-cost deterrent (that can’t easily be destroyed by future administrations), and will help stem the flow of illegal immigrants entering America via Mexico—the hope is that once an illegal alien (particularly a criminal migrant) is deported, they won’t return.

The plan is simple and time-tested—China’s Great Wall did it’s job, so did Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Britain—and yet it’s come under fire from the mainstream media.

They claim that the wall will be prohibitively expensive, that illegal immigrants contribute to America’s economy (so there’s no reason to deport them), and that the wall won’t work.

They’re factually wrong on all accounts—let’s look at the numbers.

How Much Will Trump’s Border Wall Cost? $21.6 Billion.

The first question we must address is very straightforward: how much would it cost to build a wall along the Mexican border?

We don’t know for sure (construction costs rarely align with initial estimates), but we have a few good estimates.

Senate leader Mitch McConnell said Congress estimates the wall will cost $15 billion at most—he said it would likely fall within a range of $12 to $15 billion.

However, according to more recent information acquired by Reuters, the border wall will cost $21.6 billion, and will take roughly 3.5 years to build.  This is according to a document from the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s probably our best current estimate, and this article will proceed under using this cost assumption.

On the high end (which can’t be totally discounted, given the nature of construction projects), the left-wing advocacy group and “newspaper” the Huffington Post said the wall would cost roughly $40 billion.  Their evidence is based on a study done by MIT (although their assumptions about the size and building materials may be why the projection is so high).

Either way, the cost of the wall pales in comparison to the cost of illegal immigrants in America.

In fact, illegal aliens cost California over $30 billion a year, and cost Texas $12 billion annually.

California could pay for the wall by itself, forget the rest of the country.

Americans protesting illegal immigration

How Many Illegal Immigrants Live In The US?

In all honesty, no one really knows—they’re undocumented.

All I can give you are some estimates.  On the low end, Pew Research estimates that the number of illegal immigrants in the US is roughly 11.1 million—this number tracks fairly closely with official government figures.

On the high end, estimates peg the number of illegal aliens in the US at roughly 30 million people.  This number has been proposed by conservative author Ann Coulter, who based the figure off banking and remittance payment records, government service demand, and migration projections from ICE.

Frankly, I think the math makes much more sense with the high estimate, but in the interests of neutrality, this article goes with the low estimate (11.1 million).

The Annual Cost Of Illegal Immigration In America: $148.3 Billion

Illegal immigrants are expensive, despite what open-borders and open-market activist groups like the Cato Institute think.

Not only do illegal aliens cost the government far more far more than they pay in tax, but they increase competition for work, which drives wages down and causes unemployment for citizens who can’t work for $2 an hour (due to obvious legal impediments).

There are 3 basic types of costs I included in this estimate.

1. Federal Expenses: $31.9 Billion

Expenses incurred at the federal level total $28.6 billion, according to the FAIR report.

This number includes things like educational subsidies ($2.1 billion), healthcare costs ($5.9 billion, of which $750 goes to Obamacare subsidies), and justice costs etc.

2. State & Local Costs: $93.3 Billion 

This category includes a much broader range of expenses which I won’t go into here.

Again, you can get a sense of what this looks like by reading my cost analysis on California.

Once adjusted for inflation, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator, the US government spends roughly $125.2 billion per year on illegal immigrants.

This is slightly mitigated by the fact that migrants contribute $14.9 billion in federal, state, and local taxes (inflation-adjusted).

3. Remittances: $38 Billion

The final major category are remittances (money transferred from someone working in the US to their family abroad).

For this calculation, I assume that remittances are being sent by first generation immigrants (legal or illegal), and that they are equally likely to remit.  I include remittances in my calculation because it’s a financial drain on the country—the money evaporates from the economy, never to be spent domestically or support local businesses.

According to Pew Research America lost $133.6 billion in remittances in 2015—$136.9 billion when adjusted for inflation.

Given that there are 40 million foreign-born American citizens, and roughly 11.1 million illegal immigrants (again, according to Pew), this means there are 51.1 million people sending remittances.

Given this ratio, we can guess that illegal immigrants send $38 billion from America every single year.

Of course, the wall wouldn’t impact illegals from a different continent who overstayed their visas, but when combined with reinvigorated border security, it would certainly help staunch the bleeding.

When all is accounted for, illegal immigration costs America $148.3 billion per year.

“But We Need Illegal Immigration To Grow The Economy”

Some argue that we need illegal immigration to grow the economy and maintain our quality of life.  They’re wrong.


  1. It’s simply untrue.  Just look at places like Japan.  Japan has very little immigration, and yet is able to maintain its high standard of living by investing in better technology, and becoming more efficient.  They can still afford their morning cup of coffee, don’t worry.
  2. Economies grow, and become more prosperous, when they become more productive—increasing the population my expand the economy, but it doesn’t necessarily make people better off (which is the whole point).If anything, cheap labor (which at this point is starting to resemble a serf class) is undermining our need to invest in better technology, which is stunting our long run economic growth.  And as I’ve mentioned, it’s also distorting our labor market by depressing wages and creating artificial unemployment.

The only people that benefit are the rich.

You can read more liberal lies debunked here:

3 Liberal Lies About Illegal Aliens Debunked

Will Trump’s Border Wall Work? Yes.

The final question is whether or not Trump’s wall with Mexico will work, because if it doesn’t, the whole argument is pointless.

Of course it will work: it worked for the East Germans (Berlin Wall), for the Hungarians, and for the Israelis—say what you want about Netanyahu, he knows how to build a wall.

It’s simple, walls always work.

The evidence for this is overwhelming.  I won’t spoon-feed it to you, but here’s a starting point.

A sturdy wall, combined with competent border patrols is 90-99% effective.

What this means is that Donald Trump’s wall is a good investment.  It will help ensure that once illegal immigrants (particularly criminals) are deported, they won’t be coming back.  This will save us a ton of money in the long run.

Illegal aliens are costing this country $148.3 billion every single year.  If we can even cut that down by a third, the wall’s more than paid for itself in a year.

Build the wall.

Also, make sure you check out my full report on illegal aliens in the US: I cover everything from economics, crime, culture, and morality.



About Spencer P Morrison 45 Articles
JD candidate, writer, and independent intellectual with a focus on applied philosophy, empirical history, and practical economics.Author of "America Betrayed" and Editor-In-Chief of the National Economics Editorial.


  1. Remittances are HUGE. You never see that talked about in mainstream conversations. There’s a check cashing place on every corner, and all of those have a Western Union/MoneyGram.

    Although I think your remittances estimation needs to be weighed down a bit – as illegals likely make far less than legals – even if you slash it, that math still holds true.

    • That’s a very fair point.

      I left the remittances simply a proportion of population because I figured although I agree illegals likely make less, I figured they probably remit a larger proportion of their income.

      But in the absence of hard data I didn’t want to come down on either side.

  2. Who are these people who don’t think the wall will work? It’s like they never studied 10th grade history.

    Also, I’ve noticed that the people most opposed to the wall tend to live in gated communities, with nice big walls around their houses to keep normal people like us out. Not sure why this logic stops applying at the national level.

  3. I can build “The WALL” for free ….. and it will be obsolete before it is finished:
    (1) Every illegal arrested inside the USA will be put to work at manual labor on “The WALL”.
    (2) Anyone who hires illegals will forfeit all their assets to pay for materials for “The WALL”
    (3) Laborers on “The WALL” can escape by running South, but will be SHOT if they run North.


    • I agree, we shouldn’t be paying any welfare to illegals.

      But even if we didn’t, we still need to deport them because:

      1) They commit a ton of crimes.

      2) They flood the labor market, depressing wages & causing unemployment for our people.

      3) They send billions in remittances back home (remember, ending remittances alone would be enough to pay for the wall).

      For those reasons, the wall must be built.

      And frankly, I think your diagnosis is wrong. Illegal immigration is a problem caused by the government’s inaction—they are omitting to apply the law of the land. Therefore, the wall, paired with strict enforcement of the rule of law, wouldn’t be a “big government solution”—it’s a tool.

      Jail keeps criminals in jail. The wall will keep criminals out of the country.

      Amnesty is suicide. Letting them stay is, but not giving citizenship is suicide. The only reasonable option is to deport them. And if we deport them, we have to keep them out. The wall will help us do that.

      This is an open and shut case, and frankly, Ron Paul’s a moron if he thinks otherwise.

      • There’s something else that I have never heard anyone say. They could make a System for workers to come (as registered) to the states. Then they would be here legally for a set amount of time (1 month, 6 months ect). I also believe that children Born to illegals should not receive citizenship.

  5. Spencer, Last Summer I had the chance to briefly talk to a recent Poly-Sci Graduate. His Term Paper to graduate was on Illegal Immigration. He stated and listed his sources for a number that exceed 54 Million Illegals in the US. I quipped, “Official figures are 11 mil. Back in Y2K, the figure was 11 mil as well, with a maximum of 30 mil Plus at that time…”. He reiterated his 54 Million figure and stated it was accurate according to his research. Jerry

    • I’d like to see his research.

      As I stated in my article, I’m not convinced of the 11.1 million figure: I used it because I wanted to avoid any accusations of incredulity or hyperbole.

      I personally believe the number is 30 million, at a bare minimum, and including anchor babies I could see it hitting 40-50 million quite easily.

      I believe I linked to Ann Coulter’s book “Adios America”—she also believes the number of illegal immigrants is 30-50 million, and her research is quite assiduous—much moreso than mine I’ll freely admit.

      To sum up, I do agree with you, & will probably write something in the near future on calculating the number from scratch. Thanks for the info. God bless.

  6. You people are out of your damn minds. This story is pure BS. Numbers pulled out of thin air-totally biased nonsense. All of you were already with the moron Herr Trump and his asinine wall idea so all these dumb numbers do is just give you fake justification to pretend you are not anti-immigrant bigots. Btw, how did that wall work out between East and West Germany??

    • Jack,
      If you recall, the wall between East and West Germany was to keep the East Germans in, not to keep the West Germans out. If you’ve ever seen the difference in East and West GErmany, you would understand this with a single look.

    • Jack,

      Although the Berlin wall was built for nefarious purposes, there’s no question that it worked.

      Which numbers were pulled out of “thin air”? Be specific.

      Calling people who disagree with you “bigots” or racists isn’t an argument.

  7. Question:
    What would happen if any business or farmer caught employing an ILLEGAL, was fined some $20,000 or $25,000 bucks plus cost of repatriation & not allowed to use the excuse that they “SUBCONTRACTED” those ILLEGALS caught working in his property????
    Or is that too simple for us taxpayers to understand????

    • I completely agree, rhtellez.

      Unless employers are punished, this problem is going to perpetuate (although I think the wall will dramatically reduce the number of unskilled & poor people who are able to cross the southern border), it’ll just be via the people who fly in (mainly from China, India, Philippines).

      I think we should do the following:

      1) Build the wall: it’s a powerful signal & a very useful tool to deal with roughly half of illegal immigration.

      2) Enforce our existing laws stringently (don’t let people overstay their visa) & fine employers heavily so that there’s a very strong disincentive to hire illegals (ruinous to their business if caught): basically, we need to stay on top of new problems before they arise.

      1 & 2 will take care of the future. Now to clean up the mess:

      3) We should offer both a velvet glove & an iron fist: people who self-deport should be given a few thousand bucks to go back to wherever they came from & restart their lives. For those who refuse, we should deal with them harshly: deport them by force.

      People will get the message quickly: leave with some money in your pocket & in peace, or get hijacked & tossed out immediately.

      And for those who don’t think we should offer them anything, I’ll point out that giving someone $5,000 or so to leave is a lot cheaper than getting ICE involved (& save money in the long run via welfare etc.), it will reach many more people much faster than ICE could, it will appear more humane & therefore attract less derision, it would give people a positive reason to leave (or at least lessen their resistance to it—$5,000 is nothing to us, but it’s significant for someone coming from the Philippines or Guatemala), and it will be more effective since it combines reward with punishment—the key is to do this as cheaply, humanely, & efficiently as possible.

      Of course, the payment would be a one-time deal: try to double dip & play red-rover with the border guards would likewise need a hefty punishment.

  8. I remember when the 1986 amnesty was being debated. The government said that it would be, at most, 1 million. When it was all said and done it was over 3 million.
    Now the government is saying that it is only (ONLY???) 11-12 million illegals here. Multiply by the same factor of 3 that they were off on the amnesty, and you get 33-36 million, minimum. Then you figure in all of the anchor babies that these 33 (minimum) have had and we have somewhere in the vicinity of 80 million people that are a drag on our society and economy.

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