According to a recent Harvard CAPS-Harris poll immigration has replaced inflation as the top policy concern amongst likely voters. At first glance it might appear that people’s growing concern over current border policies, is the result of a reduced concern on the state of our economy. In my opinion, that is actually not the case.

Legendary political consultant James Carville once said when asked what issue would decide an upcoming presidential election “it’s the economy stupid!” If that’s true, how could immigration be overshadowing the economy as the biggest issue voters care about? I would argue that it’s not. and when people express a concern about illegal immigration, what they are really expressing is a concern about economics.

The fact of the matter is illegal immigration is a net fiscal drain to the US Economy. At least according to Steven A. Camarota, Director of The Research Center for Immigration Studies. During his testimony before a House subcommittee several weeks ago he provided some startling statistics related to the financial impact of illegal immigration here in the US.

Although it is difficult to accurately count the number of undocumented people currently residing in the US, he and his organization estimate the current number to be somewhere around 12.5 million. According to Camarota, after factoring in taxes paid, and subtracting the public expenses they incur, he estimates the lifetime net cost of each illegal immigrant to the American people is $68,000. A major part of this cost, according to his estimates, come from the roughly $42 billion they receive from welfare programs. He bases this estimate on government data which states that 59% of all US households headed by illegal immigrants are enrolled in at least one government welfare program, compared to only 39% of the general population. Along with the cost of these entitlement programs, other major costs come from the education of their children, which he estimates to be $68 billion annually, and emergency medical expenses that cost the taxpayer about $7 billion per year.

As the number of illegal border crossings continue to increase, I think it is understandable why many on the right feel immigration is an economic issue that needs to be addressed. In fact, I would argue the rise of Donald Trump and the populist movement has its roots in the belief that greedy corporations are working alongside governmental leaders to intentionally encourage and allow illegal immigration to lower wages and increase company profits. It’s not only those on the right however who are waking up to this issue. Liberal leaders like NY Mayor Eric Adams have sounded the alarms of the financial unsustainability of the current migrant crises in his city as well.

I’ll be honest, this is an issue I am torn on. I don’t dispute the data quoted above, or blame Americans for feeling like they are being financially harmed by our open border policy. However, I also have great respect and admiration for those who are willing to risk everything to try and make a better life for themselves and their family here in America.

In my younger days I worked in the restaurant industry. While doing so I developed some close relationships with several people who were here illegally. They were some of the kindest, most hardworking and family-focused people I have ever known. Perhaps that is why according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for foreign born persons here in the US is lower than the national average.

I don’t believe their desire is to be freeloaders. The problem is their lack of skills, and ability to speak the language hinders the types of jobs they can do. In addition, their legal status makes them easily controlled by unscrupulous employers demanding they work for less. This in turn does lower wages for Americans. No doubt about it.

I’m not smart enough to predict who will win this November. But I do know the issue of the border is going to be a major factor in deciding who does. Regardless of where you personally stand on this issue, I hope we all recognize that there is more at play in this than just racism or xenophobia.