IRLI Obtains from ICE through FOIA Taxpayer Costs Regarding the Unaccompanied Alien Minor Crisis


August 21, 2015

In January 2015, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), on behalf of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), requested U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) produce records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the direct costs to taxpayers of the unaccompanied alien minor (UAM or UAC) crisis. Late last month, FAIR received a “final” reply from ICE documenting only a tiny portion of the agency’s costs resulting from the UAM surge.

In July 2015, the Government Accountability Office confirmed that President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program played a substantial role in triggering the surge of UAMs in 2014. Ironically, the administration justified DACA based on the assertion that ICE doesn’t have the resources to deport all of the illegal aliens in the United States. However, based on the incomplete cost data provided by ICE in response to FAIR’s FOIA request, and other public costs that can be extrapolated from other data, or generally assumed, the public funds already spent (not to mention those that will be continuing on an ongoing basis) on the UAMs who entered the U.S. in response to DACA, could have provided for the removal of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens that the administration claimed it could not pay for (The estimated cost of deporting an illegal alien is $8,318. Using just the partial enumerated $58.2 million costs to ICE and the conservative $850 million estimate for education of UAMs resettled in the U.S., the amount of taxpayer money spent on dealing with UAMs would have paid for the removal of an additional 109,000 illegal aliens.).

The incomplete information provided in response to the FOIA request included just seven pages of redacted purchase orders—an unbelievably small amount of documentation considering the scale of the surge across the border.

ICE also sent FAIR two charts that purport to reveal its “estimated” costs for UAMs incurred by ICE in FY 2013 and FY 2014, and its “actual” costs incurred by ICE as of June 2014 based on “task codes,” the meaning of which it did not explain. ICE provided no explanation of where these estimates came from, though such information was within the scope of the FOIA request. ICE also claimed it did not track “actual UAC costs” in FY 2013 using these “task codes.” ICE’s “estimated” costs were itemized as: Encounters, Local Transfer to HHS, Air Charter Transfer to HHS, Commercial transfer to HHS, Transfer to ICE Staging, Air Charter Removal, and Commercial Removal. The “task codes” for the “Actual Costs,” consisted of different items: Beds and Healthcare Contracts, Equipment, Other, Services/Contracts, Shipping, Supplies, and Travel. The response offered no explanation as to why “estimated” and “actual” costs should not consist of the same items.

Based on ICE’s incomplete response to FAIR’s request for cost information, the following is evident:

  1. The surge itself was responsible for nearly quadrupling ICE’s costs – from $15.6 million to $58.2 million – for transporting, transferring, and removing (just a little more than 2,200 over a two-year period), and the ICE man hours these tasks entailed. The $58.2 million are only ICE’s estimated costs for just a few ICE functions related to the surge.
  2. The $58.2 million does not include the costs incurred by the Department of Health and Human Services and to state and local governments. These costs for providing shelter, food, education, health care and other services, likely vastly exceed additional costs incurred by ICE.
  3. The information provided by ICE was far short of what was requested by FAIR under FOIA. FAIR’s FOIA request sought specific data relating to ICE’s costs associated with the UAM crisis. Three of those cost areas were ignored entirely, while the information provided for the other two were incomplete. The failure to provide most of the cost information related to the surge of UAMs indicates that the government has either failed to properly document those costs, or is refusing to reveal them.
  4. No information was provided regarding the substantial cost of building new family detention facilities (now facing a legal challenge from illegal alien advocacy groups).
  5. No information was provided regarding the financial costs related to ICE’s representation of the government in removal proceedings involving UAMs before the Executive Office of Immigration Review between FY2012 and FY2014.
  6. No information was provided regarding objections to the return of UAMs by the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.


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