A New York Post opinion piece reported on a survey regarding Republican thoughts and feelings on illegal immigration:

Respondents were asked: “What do you think is the biggest challenge illegal immigrants pose to America?” Here is the tally: Overuse of social services, 51 percent. Undermine culture, 9 percent. Violent crimes, 5.9 percent. Other, 1.5 percent. All of the above, 24.5 percent.

51% of Republicans believe illegal immigration strains social services. An additional 24% believe this among other things as well. That means 75% of Republicans believe illegal immigration strains social services. But is this true? What is the impact in the USA of illegal immigration on social services?


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Any increase in population will put an increased strain on services and infrastructure. If a service is managed privately for profit then these additional people are customers and the business that serves expands to meet new demand which includes more jobs and more money in the local economy. If the service is publicly owned or not run for profit, then the cost of expanding to meet the increased demand falls to donors, taxpayers, supporting businesses, etc. So it's true that immigration, legal or otherwise, as well as births strain existing services, whether or not that strain is a concern or a benefit depends on specifics.

Specific to the United States. The numbers you get depends on who you get them from. According to President Trump, the cost of illegal immigration is in the billions of dollars.

We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168. Cost Friday was $603,331,392. There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country. So ridiculous! DHS

The source he used to get that number is unclear. Neither he or DHS has since verified the information.

The number of illegal immigrants is hard to pin down as well. A 2018 Yale study estimated the number of people illegal living in the United states is 22 million, but that study has faced a lot of criticism as well. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/comment?id=10.1371/annotation/b53601d7-9b42-450a-b23c-39f4d889fcbd

Getting to actual cost is also hard. For example, 1 more person riding a bus doesn't actually increase cost as long as the bus isn't full. 1 extra person going to the emergency room poses more of an immediate concern because they don't share service with other patients, but they also don't use the service every day. This study from the Commonwealth Fund says the US spends about $4200 of public money per person on healthcare in the united states: https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-global-perspective, but those dollars aren't allocated per patient.

Also relating to cost, there's a false idea going around that illegal immigrants don't pay taxes but use public services for free. In fact, the opposite is true. The IRS gets 4.4 millions returns filed by people without social security numbers which includes illegal immigrants who file taxes as a means of creating a personal paper trail because they believe it will help them avoid deportation if they are caught. The revenue from all taxes paid by people without SSNs in 2015 was $23.6 billion dollars which doesn't count the revenue from sales tax which everyone pays at the register.

I can try to do math with these wacky numbers, but it won't mean much. If 4.4m people pay 23.6b dollars in taxes each pays $5400 in taxes. If $4200 is spent on healthcare per person then it looks like a net gain of $1200. However, the 4 million that pay taxes are far less than the 22 million that Yale's researchers estimate live here and still than the more common 11 million estimate. Using the latter, each taxpaying illegal immigrant would have to pay $10,500 in income tax just to cover the healthcare costs for themselves and other illegal immigrants who don't pay which means the US is at about $5100 loss for every 11 immigrants which is about $460 per person which goes up if you consider more than just healthcare and down if you consider more than just income tax, and that's only using the 4.4 million taxpayers figure which is certainly not comprised only of undocumented immigrants. <- see? meaningless.

Moving from cost to overall impact, there's evidence that communities with more immigrants have lower crime rates. The Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice published this report in 2016 that shows that crimes rates actually fall the rate of foreign-born persons rise in a community, and communities which are comprised more of immigrants than nationals compared to other cities experience less violent crime per capita https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15377938.2016.1261057. Less crime leads to less cost for police and courts and less violence leads to fewer emergency room visits. So there are arguments to be made that immigration lessens strain on some services, but it would be too big of a stretch to assume this completely offsets the other costs such as schooling, transportation and income assistance.

So how much does illegal immigration impact social services in the US? It's impossible to tell.

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    Right. If anyone tries to give you a dollar figure they've probably made it up. I'd be skeptical of anyone that says they have proof one way or the other. It's easy to gather a bunch of sources, cherry pick the numbers and do some arithmetic, and if anyone sees that they should be wary of which variables are used (and not used) and how the values were set.
    – hSherlock
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 0:26
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    Your version of why there are taxes paid by people without social security numbers isn't backed up, the bulk of the 5m ITINs are likely Canadian retirees or expats partners. hrblock.com/tax-center/filing/personal-tax-planning/…
    – daniel
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 4:43
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    Illegal immigrants break the law automatically, so the crime rate for illegal immigrants is 100%. Other than that, they are just like any other immigrant, and communities which have a higher proportion of immigrants have lower rates of crime.
    – hSherlock
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 14:17
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    @hSherlock I'd be careful about that claim. Illegal immigrants surely are aware of their status, therefore wish to not bring attention to themselves. Therefore, they have good reason to not report crimes. We should expect that such communities should be about the same as anywhere else when controlling for other factors. As far as I know, there's no reasonable explanation for it being less other than failure to report. And when communities fail to lean on authorities to enforce the law, lawlessness tends to increase, so you can see the problem with getting to the truth on that question.
    – user11643
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 20:45
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    For pity's sake, if you are going to only quote one figure for something don't quote Donald Trump. Find some other estimate that has at least a shred of credibility. Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 15:03

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