CBO: We can't tell you how much illegal immigration would go down under bill meant to solve illegal immigration

Super. A lot of this is a function of Congress getting the Hoeven-Corker Amendment down on paper only days before a vote. The Congressional Budget Office, when forced to crunch the numbers on a compressed time line, couldn’t quite come up with an answer on what is, according to polling, the most important part of the bill to the American people. Not to mention, it’s the alleged entire rationale for passing an immigration bill. The status quo is unacceptable, they say, and we must pass something to fix the problem once and for all. And yet, we can’t even get a prospective answer on how much illegal immigration might be stopped by the current bill before the Senate starts voting. That’s how you know that’s not really the driving purpose behind the bill. The last version of the bill was projected to stop a whopping 25 percent of illegal immigration and leave some 3 million illegal immigrants ineligible for legalization (whom we all know from past experience will simply stay here, too).


Here’s the non-answer on what the Hoeven-Corker Amendment would do:

Although CBO cannot precisely estimate the impact on population flows of either the committee-approved version of S. 744 or the proposed amendment, the agency expects that the amendment would further reduce the net annual flow of unauthorized residents into the United States relative to what would occur under the committee-approved bill.

The net inflow of unauthorized residents has two main elements: a flow of people who cross the border without authorization, and a flow of people who
enter the country with authorization to stay for a temporary period but stay after that authorization has expired. The amendment would significantly increase border security relative to the committee-approved version of the bill, and it would strengthen enforcement actions against those who stay in the country after their authorization has expired. Therefore, CBO expects that, relative to the committee-approved version of S. 744, the amendment would reduce both illegal entry into the country and the number of people who stay in the country beyond the end of their authorized period.

CBO estimated that the committee-approved version of S. 744 would reduce the net inflow of unauthorized residents by about one-quarter compared with the projected flow under current law. CBO expects that the reduction under the amendment would be greater than under the committee-approved version but has not yet been able to formulate a specific numerical estimate. The uncertainty associated with future population flows under current law, S. 744 as approved by the committee, or the amendment is very great.


Let’s talk about the element of uncertainty in the immigration reform process. Phil Klein writes that the CBO has referenced it frequently in its attempt at best estimates:

– “The effects of immigration policies on the federal budget are complicated and uncertain, and they become even more so as they extend farther into the future.”

– “The projections of the budgetary impact and other effects of immigration legislation are quite uncertain because they depend on a broad array of behavioral and economic factors that are difficult to predict.”

– “Because the estimates of population changes and budgetary effects that would result from enacting the legislation are very uncertain—even in the first 10 years following enactment—CBO’s estimate for the second decade following enactment should be viewed as falling in the middle of a wide range of possible outcomes.”

– “In light of the uncertainties surrounding the effects of S. 744 in the very long run, CBO and JCT are not able to provide estimates of budgetary effects for the legislation beyond 2033.”

The CBO, to the best of its ability, tries to make projections that are of use to lawmakers, journalists and policy analysts. But it’s important to keep in mind that estimating the effects of changes to the immigration system are subject to even more uncertainty than typical legislation, which is already subject to a lot of uncertainty. There are so many moving parts involved in immigration policy and making estimates involves trying to predict human decision making on a mass scale.


Doesn’t mean the CBO estimates should be completely disregarded, but it does mean caveats abound.

And, that’s my central problem with the legislation. I consider myself someone who might have been persuadable. I think a simpler, fairer immigration system that allows more legal immigration would be good for the country and more humane for those who are currently standing in line to get into this country. I’m not opposed to the idea that a robust legal immigration plan can be a net gain to our economy and our people. I think the majority of those here illegally are here to make a better life for themselves and I’m sympathetic to that, though not totally forgiving. But if such a reform is to allow those who have broken the law coming here to be rewarded for those actions, it should at the very least, offer some assurances that it might actually solve the illegal immigration problem in something close to satisfactory fashion. That seems like a pretty low bar for a bill whose raison d’etre is supposed to be solving the illegal immigration problem.

If not, it’s not reform. If not, the only assurance is that we will be passing this same bill with the same rationale and the same emotional bullying and racial demagoguing 15 years from now. It almost feels like that’s the point, huh? Is there any evidence, uncertain or no, that that’s not the case?

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Jazz Shaw 9:21 AM on September 21, 2023