Ending Illegal Immigration: A Risk-Benefit Analysis


Wait! Don’t build that fence along our southern border just yet. We may not really need it any more than we need one on the northern border with Canada. In order to fix the problem of illegal immigration we must first understand why we have an estimated 12 million illegals in the United States. A Risk-Benefit Analysis model provides insight into both the causes of the problem and the solution to it.

We all make risk-benefit decisions every day. “Should I have the apple or the cheeseburger for lunch?” Or, “Should I send a Tweet with a risqué photo of myself to that young coed?” Millions of people on our northern and southern borders face the decision to enter the United States illegally, but we don’t have a fence with Canada because we don’t need one. Canadians are not streaming into the USA demanding ice cold Molson beer and raising maple leaf flags in front of public schools. Why not? It’s simple: Canadians enjoy a good quality of life at home, so the perceived benefit in coming here illegally is not worth the risk.

But the same is not true for our southern neighbors. Life in Central and South America is…well…bleak. America sits like a shimmering jewel on the horizon where benefits abound: healthcare, education, citizenship, and jobs, to name a few. The risk in coming here is perceived to be low in comparison to the benefits to be had. So they come. Politicians puff out their chests, call it an outrage, and demand fences be built. Unfortunately, fences have never worked in the past. But we’re ignoring the obvious solution: end the benefits, ratchet up the risk, and we won’t need a fence for the same reason we have none with Canada.

Let’s look at some of the benefits we provide to non-U.S. citizens and consider some solutions:

  • Healthcare: By one estimate, as much as 40% of the healthcare that goes unpaid for in the U.S. goes to people here illegally. That’s a nice benefit. Medical providers should continue to provide care to anyone who needs it, but they should also be required to inquire about a patient’s citizenship. Those who are suspected of being here illegally ought to be turned over to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement following care.

  • Education: Current law requires that children of illegal parents receive a public education, and there are good arguments for providing it. But the practice only keeps a benefit in place, one that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. It may be time to rethink the law, and if faced with the prospect of no education in America, perhaps fewer non-citizens would risk coming here.

  • Citizenship: Long-term we need to repeal or change the 14th Amendment that gives citizenship to people born in the United States. Its original purpose has long-since ceased to be relevant, and the problems it sought to fix have been fixed. In the near term, we need to consider changing the 1965 Immigration Act which facilitates the permanent residency status of illegals who bear children in the U.S. Anchor babies have created an unintended humanitarian hostage situation, one that is a costly burden on taxpayers.

  • Jobs: It’s illegal to hire illegals, yet getting a job in America remains one of the biggest benefits to be had in coming here. We need to shift the focus away from rounding up illegals in the workplace to clamping down on those who employ them. By increasing the risk to employers (stiff fines and even jail time), they will be less likely to hire non-citizens. Surprisingly, the Obama administration appears to have started doing just that. It’s a good start.

If we were to eliminate the benefits to be gained by illegally entering the United States, while increasing the risk in coming here, we could solve the illegal immigration problem without a fence. These benefits are the causes of the problem, and their removal is the solution. Building the fence would only slow down the departure. We welcome legal immigrants, and we should reserve the benefits of citizenship for those willing to get in line and knock politely on the front door.


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