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Immigration bill is costly
Scripps Howard News Service


December 16, 2005
Friday AM

WASHINGTON - Taxpayers and businesses would pay a lot more to stem the tide of illegal migrants coming across U.S. borders under the border-security bill before the House.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost the government nearly $2 billion over the next five years.

The agency also estimates that costs to business will exceed $123 million in one of the next five years. That meets the legal definition of an unfunded mandate, which could lead to procedural problems for the bill in the Senate.



Much of the cost comes from the bill's controversial provision to force employers to use a government hotline to verify the Social Security numbers and identities of all new employees, starting in 2008, and verify all their employees, old and new, by 2012.

Another pricey provision would require the construction of two new federal prisons at $115 million each, says CBO, to house an estimated 7,000 more prisoners. The bill toughens several existing laws for smuggling illegal migrants and makes it a crime to violate a deportation order instead of a civil violation.

The tab to taxpayers for each prisoner would be $24,000 a year, said CBO. The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that the median income for a migrant worker is about $15,600 a year.

The bill also would tell the government to install radiation monitors, at a cost of between $280,000 and $470,000 apiece, at all 380 U.S. ports of entry, including the 20 in North Dakota and the 15 in Montana on the border with Canada. There are now 613 radiation monitors covering the busiest 110 entry points.

The CBO estimate was issued before the House voted on amendments, including one to build a 2,000-mile fence along the border with Mexico at an estimated cost of $8 billion.

On Thursday, the White House urged passage of the bill, even without a guest-worker plan, saying the bill is "a positive step" toward the goal of comprehensive immigration reform.

But many of the president's traditional business allies oppose the bill over the absence of a guest-worker plan and the government mandate on employers.

Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned that House members who support the bill are likely to find the vote counted as a minus on the chamber's annual scorecard of Congress unless the measure is changed substantially.

"This is a pretty far-out and reactionary piece of legislation," Josten said.

The measure also is opposed by trade associations for farmers, contactors, trucking companies, restaurant owners, retailers, florists, hotels and manufacturers, unions for service and food workers, the National Council of La Raza, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and even conservative guru Grover Norquist.

Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said, "The good news is that the legislation is not a piece of legislation that is actually going to pass the Senate and be signed by the president."

The Senate is expected to consider a bill encompassing border-security measures with a guest-worker plan in February.


Contact James W. Brosnan at BrosnanJ(at)

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