The Cost of Deportation–Idaho

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz both want to deport all undocumented immigrants. Obviously, the federal government would need to spend vast sums of tax money to do so, and it’s unlikely either would be willing to raise taxes meaning such a plan would put the U.S. even further into debt.

The costs don’t end there, though. The Idaho economy would be significantly harmed if all undocumented immigrants were deported. Idaho is famous for its potatoes and other agricultural activity, and a lot of the hardworking men and women who do the hard farm work are undocumented immigrants. If they’re deported, many farmers will be unable to manage and harvest their fields, and the economy in Idaho would suffer. Consider these facts from the AIC:


  1. About 4.6% of Idaho’s workforce is composed of undocumented immigrants. That’s about 35,000 people. That’s more than the population of Rexburg or Lewiston. If working undocumented immigrants in Idaho had their own county, they’d be the 12th-largest county in the state, right between Madison County and Jefferson County.The total number of undocumented immigrants is even higher, as many children are undocumented and not yet working. That number is closer to 50,000, which would be the 7th largest county in Idaho, right between Twin Falls and Bingham County.
  2.  If this group were deported, Idaho would lose over $400 million in economic activity. Plenty of jobs would disappear too.
  3. Idaho would also miss out on over $26 million in state and local taxes.

What would happen if, instead, these unauthorized immigrants were granted legal status? Obviously, they would pay millions more in taxes, especially income tax. Unfortunately, the kind of legal status that President Ronald Reagan offered during his time as president is not on the table right now. Comprehensive immigration reform just hasn’t happened. The only significant reform involving undocumented immigrants that has happened in recent years–DACA–does provide some very limited relief to people in specific categories, but its impact is limited. To qualify for a work permit, immigrants need to have no significant criminal record, have graduated from high school (or get a GED or meet other very narrow criteria) and have been under the age of 16 when they last entered the U.S. Other criteria also need to be met. So it helps some who came to the U.S. before they were old enough to drive in most states. It doesn’t help anyone else. And even those it helps need to renew it every two years and are not eligible for a green card.

In fact, if a program called DAPA makes it through the Supreme Court–and it’s scheduled to be heard soon–close to two-thirds of unauthorized immigrants in Idaho would be eligible for work permits and deferred status. They would not be eligible for green cards, but they would be able to get legal jobs where they would pay income tax, and they would have some limited protection against deportation. Those who are undocumented should pay close attention during the next several months to see what changes occur.

Immigration reform needs to happen. The economy in Idaho, and many individuals in Idaho, would benefit.