How has admitting fewer refugees impacted the economy?

Migrant workers pass freshly picked watermelon down a line to be loaded up in a produce trailer at the Mandujano Brothers Produce’s watermelon field Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Coyanosa,Texas. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)

(NewsNation) — New research offers another nuance in the debate over immigration: Recent American policies limiting asylum seekers and refugees have cost the American economy billions each year.

A May study released this week reports that Trump-era policies limiting the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. cost the nation’s economy $9.1 billion each year. That’s according to the author of the report, Center for Global Development (CGD) Senior Fellow Michael Clemens.

CGD is an independent think tank with a board of directors led by former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers.

The U.S. admitted a total of 11,840 refugees in 2020, with most originating from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma and Ukraine. The nation also provided protection to 31,429 people who were granted some form of asylum that year, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It’s hard to know exactly what percentage of daily encounters they currently make up (government reports tracking that information are a few years behind and there’s a disproportionate lack of data about asylum seekers), but the financial impact of immigration is an often-cited part of the national debate. Total migrant encounters are at 2 million for the fiscal year, which has not yet ended.

Admitting refugees comes with some immediate costs and services, but Clemens’ research notes that the average asylum-seeker pays $2,185 more to federal, state and local entities than they receive in benefits — likely an underestimation, he said. Refugees also contribute in less quantifiable ways, Clemens said, noting the contributions of refugees like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“Assisting refugees and asylum seekers is an investment in the future in that sense,” Clemens said. “And there are lots of other reasons to set policy that are more important than the economic ones, but the ones that people think about most are not economically costly. This is a case where matters of principle and matters of self-interest align.”

Admissions reached a low point in 2002 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack but peaked in 2016 under the Obama administration.

The administration of former President Donald Trump then reduced the refugee ceiling each year he was in office and introduced new vetting and screening procedures that contributed to the decrease in admission since 2017. President Joe Biden raised that limit to 125,000 in October, but some pandemic-related policies remained in place. That includes the public health order known as Title 42, which turned away those at the border to stop the spread of COVID-19, even if they were seeking asylum.

In some states, Republican efforts to keep the local migrant population at bay have come at a cost.

Texas has committed billions of dollars to Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, an unprecedented move into border security that includes bus trips, prosecuting border crossers for trespassing and the mobilization of state troopers and National Guardsmen to help patrol the border.

The Florida legislature allocated $12 million for its program for the current budget year.

And the city of El Paso, which last week contracted a private bus company at a cost of up to $2 million, plans to seek reimbursement from the federal government.

Recently, governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas have taken to busing and flying migrants on private chartered planes to Democratic-led cities.

Those practices haven’t escaped criticism, either. On Tuesday, a Boston-based law firm filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of several migrants whom Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis had flown to Martha’s Vineyard.


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