Editor's pick: Originally published Jan. 15.
"Illegal immigration is beyond belief," declared Donald Trump at the sixth Republican presidential primary debate on Thursday evening. He's got a plan to fix it, though the ramifications might not be all that great for the economy.
Tackling immigration has been among the billionaire businessman's top priorities in his presidential bid. He first made waves on the issue in his campaign announcement speech in June, calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists and pledging to build a wall on the southern border.
His plans have cost him a handful of business deals, but they might cost the United States much more.
The American Action Forum, a right-leaning policy institute based in Washington D.C., estimates that immediately and fully enforcing current immigration law, as Trump has suggested, would cost the federal government from $400 billion to $600 billion. It would shrink the labor force by 11 million workers, reduce the real GDP by $1.6 trillion and take 20 years to complete (Trump has said he could do it in 18 months).
"It will harm the U.S. economy," said Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and chief economic policy adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, in an October interview. "Immigration is an enormous source of economic vitality."
A number of industries that depend heavily on cheap immigrant labor would be devastated -- especially agriculture. "There would be an abrupt drop in farm income and a sharp rise in food prices," said John McLaren, professor of economics at the University of Virginia with expertise in international trade, economic development and the political economy.