Illegal Aliens:

National Net Cost Estimates Vary Widely

HEHS-95-133: Published: Jul 25, 1995. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the costs of providing benefits and services to illegal aliens, focusing on: (1) current estimates of the national net costs of illegal aliens to all levels of government; (2) the variation in these estimates; and (3) areas in which the estimates could be improved.

GAO found that: (1) illegal aliens in the United States generate more in costs than revenues to federal, state, and local governments combined; (2) estimates of the national net cost of illegal aliens vary greatly, ranging from $2 billion to $19 billion; (3) a great deal of uncertainty remains about the national fiscal impact of illegal aliens, because little data exists on illegal aliens' use of public services and tax payments; (4) displacement costs and revenue estimates account for much of the variation in the estimates of the national net costs of illegal aliens; (5) the estimates are difficult to assess because the studies do not always clearly explain the criteria used to determine which costs and revenues are appropriate to include in the estimates; and (6) the cost estimates could be improved by recognizing the difficulties inherent in collecting data on a hidden population, focusing on key characteristics of illegal aliens, and explaining more clearly which costs and revenues are appropriate to include in such estimates.