Detainees are escorted through a hallway at the Stewart Detention Center, just south of Columbus. The center is owned by the Georgia Department of Corrections, which has an agreement with ICE, and operated by the CoreCivic, Inc, a publicly traded company with a market cap of $2.9 billion. Credit: Boston Globe via

By Guest Columnist WESLEY THARPE, research director for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute

The hot topic of immigration is never far from Georgians’ TV screens and Twitter feeds these days. Stories of migrant children taken from their parents at the border captivate viewers on the nightly news. Candidates for high Georgia offices compete over who can be most threatening to the immigrant family next door. And President Donald Trump repeatedly claims that newcomers from other lands are bad for taxpayers, harm the economy and upend the nation’s social fabric.

Georgia’s city and county governments play an important role in the debate as well, since they hold some discretion on how closely to entangle local law enforcement with the role of federal immigration agents. Many Georgians naturally carry strong views on the subject, for philosophical reasons or due to personal concern about immigrant families and communities.

But what most Georgia taxpayers probably don’t know is the extent to which they are footing the bill.

A new report released this month sheds some light on the complex and often contentious debate. Published by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Voluntary Immigration Enforcement a Costly Choice for Georgia Communities details the cost to Georgia taxpayers when their local lawmakers choose to embrace a hand-in-glove relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

The key findings include:

  • Honoring non-binding requests from ICE to arrest and hold a person cost Georgia’s local governments an estimated $88 million over the past decade, or about $9 million a year. These expenses arise because detaining unauthorized immigrants with minor fractions drives up detention and salary costs in local jails.
  • Additional costs accrue in counties with so-called 287(g) agreements, which divert local resources and officers toward doing the work of federal immigration agents. Gwinnett County flags more immigrants for ICE than any other 287(g) jurisdiction in the country. It spends at least an extra $1.2 million a year on its aggressive program. Cobb, Hall and Whitfield counties operate similar programs but officials there say they don’t track how much ICE cooperation costs, despite some claims it generates a net gain.

Detainees are escorted through a hallway at the Stewart Detention Center, just south of Columbus. The center is owned by the Georgia Department of Corrections, which has an agreement with ICE, and operated by CoreCivic, Inc, a publicly traded company with a market cap of $2.9 billion. Credit: Boston Globe via
  • Most local costs for immigration enforcement aren’t reimbursed. Federal grants only cover about 12 percent of the direct budget costs associated with detaining and holding people for ICE in Georgia jails. And Gwinnett County got back no more than 10 percent of the cost of its aggressive approach since launching the effort in 2009.
  • These immediate financial costs likely minimize the true long-term local budget and economic fallout. That’s because harsh crackdowns on immigrant neighbors inflict serious long-term social and economic costs for families and communities, especially children.

    More than 185,000 Georgia children who are U.S. citizens live in a home with at least one undocumented adult. When a parent or caregiver is deported, extreme psychological harm is common and family finances can crumble. National research finds deporting an undocumented parent reduces household income on average by around 70 percent.

    Supporters of ICE cooperation usually justify the policy under the guise of improving public safety, but such claims wither under scrutiny. Minor traffic offenses are the leading reason why unauthorized immigrants get flagged for ICE, not serious crimes. And when immigrant communities can’t distinguish between local peace officers and ICE agents, they are less likely to report crimes or provide police with tips.

    Many of Georgia’s local governments are weighing whether to embrace voluntary enforcement. Some are considering deepening their federal entanglement, while others may be open to scaling back. Public officials striving to chart the best course for their communities can now carefully weigh the costs of aggressive enforcement and insist supporters prove any claims of a net gain from the program.

    GBPI’s Wesley Tharpe presents on July 20 the findings of the latest report on the cost to local taxpayers of their government’s relation with ICE. Credit: GBPI

    Join the Conversation


    1. This is disgusting idiocy. 287g is used in jails where illegal aliens have already been captured. In GWINNETT, many murderers and rapists and child molesters have been found in the jail and deported. You should be ashamed for spreading the same lies the SPLC spouts. We are legal immigrants and we want the illegal ones to be stopped. How many dead Americans isn’t enough to fight this crime!

    2. NEWS FLASH ……… taxpayer funds are used to help enforce our nation’s laws …… gosh, who could of imagined that happening ?

    3. What a terrible shame these immigrants are locked up and cannot contribute to society after many have left horrific situations in the home countries. So many immigrants are doing jobs Americans cannot or will not do such a pick crops, act as night nurses in our hospitals etc. The grocery shelves would be empty of American food and our hospitals would function poorly without their help.

    4. Closely held secret: the decades old H2A visa allows farmers to import an UNLIMITED number of AG workers. But because these workers must be paid 1st world wages and provided decent housing, the 21st century slavers prefer the illegals. You have taken the open borders bait and accepted the lies from the liberal media.

    5. What part of illegal don’t you understand? Where is the censure of the parents for being scofflaws and putting their kids in this position?

    6. I really cannot understand how anyone can justify and condone violating immigration laws. There is a lawful manner to immigrate and that is the correct way to enter this country, at a legal port of entry. The United States has requirements for those who would come here. Let those requirements be met or stay away! Sneaking in the back door is no way to start a new life. Only those with a criminal intent mind would believe that doing something illegal is OK!

    7. The real solution to this problem is to build the Wall on our Southern Border.
      The Wall will stop the illegal migration problem and all the issues that come with it (housing, education, job training, health care and the spread of deadly diseases, a full array of other benefits and many other issues,) and stop much of the flow illegal drugs that is a large cause of our “opioid crisis.”

    8. Susan Varlemoth – Given your analysis, I need to ask you a question. What have you done to help ILLEGAL immigrants obtain legal status? All your example of what a person MAY become should be applied to VALID LEGAL IMMIGRANTS and CITIZENS, and not to scofflaws who would violate our borders for their own benefit. We need to implement Everify asap. The primary reason that an illegal immigrant is allowed to remain here in the shadows is that some underhanded employer is paying them cheap wages and reaping the benefits of their slave labor. We should be better than that and insist on following our laws for the benefit of those who are citizens and the legal, law-abiding residents.

    9. Yes, enforcing our immigration laws is costly, but these costs would not be anywhere close to what they are now had the federal government been strictly enforcing them for the past 30 years. As the old saying goes, it’s time to pay the piper for the years the feds looked the other way while the business community ignored those laws that were created to protect Americans and their jobs.

    10. Bottom line we’re losing more than dollars to this problem of illegal immigration. I think it’s sad it took President Trump to get it to the forfront that it is today. Thank you President Trump hopefully something will be done, !! Their’s laws already available for ways to be done but Illegals just Choose not to . All officials should be on same page with Reporting to agencies an would save Lives .Where’s the compassion from these People an Organization’s Hollering for the Illgeal People saying Anything about what Happened to my Family an Family’s all Across our Country ??? Does that mean it’s Ok for what’s been done to Our Family’s ??
      Distins Dad

    11. I am a long-time Georgia resident. To approach immigration issues any other way than by following the law is cowardly. The people in Congress,. the Governors of the States, local officials know what the law is. They DO NOT have the prerogative to ignore it – Enforce the law or change it! Deciding to just look the other way is criminal.

      If the first lesson a person learns when coming into this country is “US LAW DOESN’T MATTER, JUST DO WHAT YOU PLEASE”, it leads to further criminal acts and lawlessness. We see people deported 7 – 8 times finally ending up killing someone in an accident or in the act of committing a crime. The blood of innocent victims is on the hands of anyone in a position of authority who can enforce the law and chooses not to.

    12. BS. The reason these people have jobs is because Immigrants are willing to work for less out of fear of getting caught. They have driven down wages for American citizens. Automation is already replacing a lot of the people in jobs in agriculture, fast food, and retail. American citizens cannot afford to work for the low wages these jobs off because the labor supply is high. Besides, people like you with a misplaced sense of guilt hire immigrants to clean your toilets and cook your food, that is not respect, you are simply using them for your personal gain. That is Disgusting.

    13. This writer is paid by GBPI to spout the doctrine of the anti-borders crowd and even uses “the children” as a reason for not doing everything possible to fight illegal immigration. Dead Americans (including children) and victims of illegal alien crime are nowhere in the consideration. The Saporta Report has been drifting into SPLC territory for several years, but running this sophomoric pap is a new low. Even money Maria will not run a pro-enforcement piece that is actually pro-American. Holy Cow, this is unreal. Maybe if these libs knew somebody like Billy and Kathy Inman they would think differently….Kidding: Dead 16 year old Americans are merely the price of nobility in what passes for intellect in today’s GA. PEEEE-UUUUU. We should have open borders to save money?

    14. Well if it’s all about saving money, how many other laws should we not enforce to save money? How about we stop doing the things that attract people to come to our state illegally; problem solved. Or if you don’t like the laws that are being violated, make your case, convince others to agree with you and change them. But you can’t do that so you try to find an unscrupulous way to enact your agenda.

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