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Why aren’t Republicans proposing mass deportation? It’s too expensive.

It's easy to assume that Republican policymakers think all unauthorized immigrants should be deported. After all, the overwhelming majority of them oppose President Obama's recent executive actions to stop millions of them from getting deported, so deportation must be the alternative.

But that's not the case: no policymaker is actually calling for 5 million unauthorized immigrants to be taken out of the line for deferred action and deported instead. It's not because there isn't a constituency for it: polls show that somewhere between a quarter and a third of Americans believe that unauthorized immigrants should be deported en masse.

Occasionally, when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official tells Congress that his agency's "limited resources" put a cap on how many people it can deport each year, Republican members of Congress respond by asking how much they'd need to increase the budget to deport everyone; but the Obama administration hasn't provided a direct answer to the question yet, and it's not something anyone hammers on for long. And even many conservative members of the House GOP protest that "no one's talking about deportation" whenever they're asked about it directly.

In part, that's because Republicans do understand around how much it would cost to deport millions of people — and they know that it's far too expensive to be worthwhile. The Center of American Progress estimated last month that deporting everyone who would qualify for relief under the president's executive actions would cost $50.3 billion. That's based on CAP's estimate that it costs about $10,070 to deport a single immigrant who's been settled in the US.

CAP deportation infographic

(Center for American Progress)

The cost of mass deportation goes a long way toward explaining why many conservatives have embraced "self-deportation" as their preferred "solution" for dealing with the unauthorized-immigrant population. The theory of self-deportation is that if the government passes laws that make it sufficiently miserable to be an unauthorized immigrant in the United States — by making it impossible for him to get a job; by keeping homeowners from renting to him; or by allowing or encouraging local police to arrest him and turn him over to federal agents for deportation — the immigrant will decide to pick up and leave. Multiply that by several million self-deporting immigrants, and you get the result that supporters of mass deportation want, while saving the government $10,070 a head.

Many Republicans aren't on board with self-deportation, either — and just because supporters of self-deportation are a vocal contingent within the party doesn't mean every Republican who doesn't answer the question of "What would you do with the 11 million people here without papers?" would secretly like for them to go away. But if you're looking for a Mass Deportation Caucus in the US Congress, for example, you'd be better suited to look at supporters of "self-deportation" instead — they have the same goal in mind, but they don't see a need to burden the government with the cost.

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