One of the biggest areas of disagreement on the wall is its cost efficiency.

Republicans claim it will save us money by preventing the need to support illegal immigrants who enter the US, while Democrats argue the wall is just too expensive to ever be a cost efficient approach to addressing illegal immigration. I'm looking for hard numbers regarding this claim. Can we compare the potential costs to potential savings and figure out whether it has a positive ROI (return on investment)?

For now I'm trying to look at a few things:

  1. Long term costs after the wall is built (total construction cost, maintenance, repairs, staffing, etc.).
  2. To get an idea of potential economic benefit, if any, after being built as a result of the wall doing its intended job.
  3. Perhaps, if applicable, how many years it would take to recoup the cost of building the wall based off of money saved in the previous point.

On one side I'm looking for the most accurate number on cost savings on lowering illegal immigration. What does the government estimate the cost of illegal immigration to be currently? What is the economic gain or loss per year on preventing illegal immigrants from entering the US? What are the numbers if we presume the wall hypothetically stops 100% of Mexican non-overstay illegal immigration? It's unlikely any action will stop 100% of illegal immigration, so can you cite any source(s) that give a more reasonable percentage expected to be stopped by the wall if built and what that equates to in potential costs/savings?

On the other side of the calculation, what would be the cost of maintaining the wall, i.e. manning it, repairing damage to it, and generally keeping the wall functional after it is built? How would this maintenance cost compare to the economic impact on the US citizens in stopping some illegal immigration?

Since we're looking at long term costs here, the original cost of building the wall is only relevant in the lost opportunity cost (in layman's terms, what benefit would we get out of the money if we spent it elsewhere). You are welcome to try to include opportunity cost as a factor for 'costs' of the wall. That is assuming you can find a valid way of measuring it, it's hard to place an opportunity cost on a less-than-rational government budget since assuming money not spent on the wall would go to a cost effective alternative, rather then being wasted on some inefficient endeavor, is not always a safe assumption. Though I suppose claiming the interest on the national debt, on the argument the money used for the wall would otherwise not be spent and thus pay off (or not require borrowing against) the debt, would probably be a semi-valid minimum estimation of opportunity cost.

I'm looking for hard numbers from cited sources or valid statistical calculations for this question, some degree of rigor to prove the accuracy of claims. I am looking only at direct financial cost of building the wall, I'm not interested in any other claimed advantages/disadvantages of the wall, such as environmental impact, or whether the wall will lower crime from illegal immigrants, I've already asked a question about that latter claim.

I would like answers that can say whether the wall was cost effective before the government shutdown nonsense started. If for some reason you really wanted to address how the government shutdown changes the numbers you can, but I'd like to know what the anticipated ROI would have been even if government shutdown never occurred.

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    The fundamental problem with answering this question would be agreeing on the definition of what constitutes "Return on Investment" from the wall. While I agree it may be possibly to attribute X cost to Y program from illegal aliens, it is not, IMHO, possibly to fully equate $ value to the "return" part of the ROI in altering the flow of immigration. Too many externalities to apply to the value of a human life to properly calculate return here. There is a cultural shift that cant be priced accurately. – David S Dec 26 '18 at 21:02
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    I don't see how this question can be close-voted as opinion-based when the OP is specifically asking for hard data on the matter. – Wes Sayeed Dec 26 '18 at 23:35
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    As far as I'm aware, credible studies of illegal immigration conclude that illegal immigrants are a net benefit to the economy, not a net cost. So the only economic benefit of the wall would possibly be to improve the efficiency of Border Patrol operations on the southern border. But you also have to take into account the fact that there are be much more cost-effective ways to improve that efficiency. – phoog Dec 27 '18 at 0:32
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    @phoog: Yes, I wonder who they think is going to be picking fruits & vegetables, or all the other hard and low-paid jobs that most Americans won't do, in the absence of immigrants. (And for the record, I have - working in a field, hearing someone shout "Migra!", and suddenly finding yourself all alone is a learning experience :-)) – jamesqf Dec 27 '18 at 5:41
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    There's another point that really ought to be addressed in any cost analysis of "The Wall". That is, will it actually reduce the numbers of illegal immigrants? As I think was mentioned, many are visa overstays. There's also a lot of sea coast out there, and as European experience shows, determined migrants can obtain boats. – jamesqf Dec 27 '18 at 21:29

Best-case scenario? Fox News thinks the Wall will save lives by making it more difficult for cartels to bring drugs into the USA.

Middle-of-the-road scenario? Stanford put an actual monetary figure into play with its research: for every 19 cents we spend on this wall, it will give about 1 cent worth of benefit to low-income US workers. Oh, and it wouldn't slow the rate of drug smuggling.

Worst-case scenario? Trade war/embargo with Mexico, environmental ruination on a huge scale, and the loss of between 8 and 40 billion dollars that could have been used to repair crumbling infrastructure.

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    The Stanford study is pretty credible. – ohwilleke Jan 11 '19 at 19:32

The point which doesn't seem to be discussed all that much is that a barrier would reduce the area occupied by the US-Mexico border. According to ACLU, currently CBP is authorized to patrol up to 100 miles around the border. Which means that given that a border has a length of X, CBP has to potentially monitor an area of X x 100 miles. Having an obstacle which slows down travelling across the border illegally makes the area which needs to be monitored significantly smaller. The US Border Patrol can concentrate on the monitoring to X x 10 feet around the barrier itself and deploy more surgically to the areas where illegal crossing and/or trafficking are happening.

I don't know if there are any estimates of how much this "thinning" of the border would save, but then I haven't even seen or heard anyone make this argument. So I don't expect its efficiency to have been estimated. However, the same ACLU link above states

The regulations establishing the 100-mile border zone were adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1953—without any public comments or debate. At the time, there were fewer than 1,100 Border Patrol agents nationwide; today, there are over 21,000.

The increase from 1,100 to 21,000 is clearly a large expansion in the force whose primary goal is protecting the border. Should the traffic across the southern border slow down, it is conceivable that there would be public pressure (and therefore political pressure) to reduce the 100-mile border zone to a thinner territory. And that could result in savings. And again, I don't expect that an estimate of these savings has been calculated since no public discussion of thinning of the border has yet occurred.

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    Between the likely ineffectiveness of the wall and the nature of bureaucracies, there's no reason to believe that the CBP will reduce their patrolling as a result of the wall being built. – Mark Jan 12 '19 at 0:23
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    You seem to be under the impression that you've provided a source that says Border Patrol patrols that space. They do not, for the obvious reasons in the source. – Alex H. Jan 14 '19 at 23:27
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    @dsollen it would be completely inappropriate to put any part of this answer as a comment. Comments are suggestions on how questions can be improved. This is an attempt at answering the question. Answers do not need to answer questions fully, but even partial answers do not belong in comments. – grovkin Jan 16 '19 at 5:06
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    You're suggesting a wall could shrink the area needing to be covered to 0.002% of what is currently done (10ft v 100mi), which is pure fantasy. While it's quite possible it would make the job more efficient in that aspect, your hyperbole makes it very hard to take seriously. – Geobits Jan 16 '19 at 20:01
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    @grovkin They might employ 20 times as people because the original number is from 65 years ago and a lot has changed since 1953. If you're going to say it's impossible to quantify, then your answer shouldn't be trying to use it as justification. – Chris Hayes Jan 17 '19 at 10:21

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