How to Raise $100 Million for Immigration Enforcement

No informed person can deny that the paucity of enforcement actions is the main culprit behind America’s immigration chaos. As for the reason for this paucity, the government tends to conveniently cite the dearth of resources in these days of budget deficits.

Leaving aside the ineluctable suspicion that the dearth here is not of resources but of the will to enforce the law–after all, the Bush Administration’s record shows it is willing to chase illegal aliens about as often as a quadriplegic cat would chase mice — let us nevertheless postulate that inadequate funds for enforcement is the problem.

If that is the problem, then there is a conservative solution. Conservative because it raises the necessary funds without further burdening the American taxpayer and without cannibalizing any funds from current obligations. In fact, the solution does not require public funds at all.

So, whence would the money come? Right where it should — from immigrants and their sponsors. The government can easily raise at least $100 million for immigration enforcement by increasing the fees for various immigration applications.

Take, for instance, the so-called green card. This is the document that makes you an immigrant. The official term for immigrants is legal permanent residents (LPRs). (By the way, decades ago the card was green, but other colors are used now. So, strictly speaking, the term green card is an anachronism. Also, contrary to popular belief, the card does not make you an American citizen. In most cases, citizenship, i.e., naturalization, comes at least five years after the green card.)

To foreigners, the green card is a priceless document. It allows them to work for anyone and to live here permanently. Unlike a temporary visa, which has limited duration and a lot of strings attached, the LPR status conferred by the green card never expires. And, it allows them to bring family members, whether they speak English or not, whether they have any skills or not.

The Numbers

Currently, the typical green card application fee is about $585. A modest increase of the fee, say by $100, will yield an enormous return. For instance, in 2005, there were 1,122,373 LPRs admitted (i.e., issued green cards). Now assume we had increased their fees by $100. Hence:

  • The increase would amount to $100 x 1,122,373= $112,237,300
  • In other words, the government could have collected $112,237,300 in addition to what it collected

In fact, every year, about a million LPRs are admitted. Hence, with a $100 increase in fees, there would be $100 million in additional revenue every year–without bothering the American taxpayer.

If we took a typological approach, the funds raised would be even higher. First, a few basics. Immigrant admission has two main categories: 1) family relationship, and 2) employment. There are other minor categories — e.g., for refugees — but the two main categories preponderate the others by far. For instance, almost 900,000 of the 1.1 million admissions last year were under the two main categories.

Refugees are currently exempt from fees, paying only the fingerprint processing charge, $70. By law, before applying for their green card, they must live here one year, during which they can work. So, they should pay the $100 fee increase.

However, say we leave them intact for humanitarian reasons and instead concentrate on the two main categories. The additional revenue resulting from raising the latter’s fees by $200, for instance, is presented in the table below. Admissions are from 2005 statistics. Also, the main forms used for each category are given, so that any interested bureaucrats from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which collects immigration fees, will know exactly what we are referring to.

Category Admissions Current fees Proposed fees Additional Revenue
Family Relationship
(Forms I-130, I-485,
and fingerprints)
649,772 $585 $785 $129,954,400
(Forms I-140, I-485,
and fingerprints)
246,877 $590 $790 $49,375,400
Total additional revenue by these two categories: $179,329,800

So, you see, we have the means to generate almost $180 million in additional revenue for immigration enforcement–without expropriating a dime from the American taxpayer.


Is a $200 increase in fees, as is posited in the table above, reasonable? Absolutely. Here is why.

In recent years, two-thirds of LPRs have come here on a family relationship. No skills are required of them. Not a word of English is required of them. Under the usual modus operandi, the principal immigrant obtains his green card based on employment, and turns around and sponsors his dependents, i.e., spouse and children. The dependents are therefore far more likely to use services that no one in the family has fully paid for (such as public schools). Consequently, a $200 increase is an infinitesimally small price for that privilege, especially considering it is to be paid only once.

Interestingly, under the relationship category, the largest sub-category is spouses of U.S. citizens. In 2005, that number was 259,144. This includes the thousands of American men who scoured the world for that ideally (gl)amorous bride and came home with the conquest. Having to pay only $200 more for the love of your life is a very fair bargain. Anyone who cannot afford the extra $200 has no business looking for love overseas in the first place.

Even the current fees for employment-based green cards are ridiculously low when compared to those for temporary visas. For instance, the fee for the H-1B temporary work visa, used by engineers, programmers, and other skilled workers, ranges from $1,440 to $2,190, depending on the size of the company. But these foreign workers are limited to a six-year stay. Yet an employment-based green card, which entitles you to permanent stay and almost all the rights of citizenship, currently costs only $590.

Furthermore, the very fact that Mexicans and South Americans pay their “coyotes” (smugglers) thousands of dollars to bring them here illegally is evidence of the price that people will pay to come here. In comparison, a $200 increase to a green card is nothing.

More Numbers

Believe it or not, immigration fees tend to be inversely proportional to the status applied for. The higher the immigration status, the lower the fee. How else could we explain the preposterous fact that the application fee (including fingerprint charge) for U.S. citizenship is only $400? Yes, it costs less to become a U.S. citizen than it does to obtain a green card, thanks to the inverted logic used by the government.

About 500,000 LPRs naturalize every year. Say we raised the fee from the current $400 to $1,000. Since naturalization is optional for LPRs, some may eschew it due to the higher fee. So, let us take a dystopian scenario and assume a precipitous 50% drop in naturalizations. Even then:

  • There would be 250,000 naturalizations
  • And the receipts would total $1,000 x 250,000=$250 million a year, which is $50 million more than the current naturalization receipts of about $200 million

That, when added to the $180 million from above, would amount to $230 million a year in additional revenue.

Gain for Legal Immigrants

Needless to say, critics may allege that increasing fees on legal immigrants to raise funds for enforcement against illegal aliens is tantamount to punishing the former. Such arguments must be taken cum grano salis, to use an old Latin phrase.

As a legal immigrant and naturalized American, I can perhaps help disabuse such critics of their myopia. In my long journey through America’s labyrinthine immigration system, I filled out countless forms, paid one fee after another, and never believed I had any right to complain about the fees. Until I became a citizen, I considered myself a guest here.

In any case, to say that raising fees on legal immigrants is tantamount to punishing them is a specious claim, based on supposititious ethics, and bereft of any realism. By such logic, a homeowner who has no children but whose property taxes subsidize local schools is being punished also — after all, why should he pay for someone else’s children?

In fact, enforcement against illegal aliens redounds to direct gains by legal immigrants. For instance, if illegal aliens, who typically work for wages that are notoriously subpar, are caught and deported and thereby removed from any area, many of the beneficiaries would be the legal immigrants in that area, who could now expect to be paid a prevailing wage for jobs that were previously unappealing.

Besides, we, as the owners of this country, have every right to decide how much to charge those who seek to settle here. If they do not like the fees, then they do not have to come here.

Optimal Allocation

As we have seen, the government can raise at least a $100 million a year by simply raising application fees. How should it be spent?

Given the abysmal failure of the federal government to enforce immigration laws, even when it had adequate resources during the budget-surplus years of the past, we should not allow the additional revenue to defray more of the same impuissant strategies. Giving more fodder to a sheep does not turn it into a wolf.

Consequently, the optimal use of the $100 million is to allocate it to local law enforcement agencies that agree to enforce immigration laws. In fact, under what is called the 287(g) program (named after a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act), local law enforcement agencies that agree to enforce immigration laws are reimbursed for some of their costs by the DHS. But the program’s budget is only a paltry $5 million.

Indeed, one of the big reasons that local agencies shun immigration enforcement is the cost. With strained budgets, many localities simply have better uses for their police time than nabbing illegal aliens. But an annual $100 million disbursement would attract a lot of interest in immigration enforcement.

Given the ubiquity of illegal aliens, the involvement of local law enforcement is a sine qua non. After all, it is the local cops who make the traffic stops, who know the local neighborhoods, and who have a stake in making sure their communities are free of illegal behavior. And illegal aliens, by definition, are engaged in illegal behavior every minute they are here–they are breaking the law just by being here.