A market-based visa program can be run as a lucrative profit center if it is limited to migrant workers, who are usually in their prime years and good health. They require little from the state beyond occasional acute care for an accident or illness.
Not so for migrant children. Aside from not generating income, migrant children will, by and large, enroll in the public school system at taxpayer expense. Their cost averages $11,000 / year nationwide and far exceeds any tax contribution their parents, typically earning $20,000-$25,000 / worker, could make.
The unusual feature of the current wave of asylum seekers is that half are children, as they are literally the ticket into the US interior. As a result, we estimate that up to 300,000 school age minors could enter the US claiming asylum in 2019 to the beginning of the school year in September. Educating them will put pressure on the school systems in those states with the largest Hispanic populations, because that is where their parents will have the best social networks to assist in re-settling and finding work. If historical trends hold, 60% of all asylum seekers will end up in just seven states, in order: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Illinois.
On the graphs below, we show the indicative enrollment and associated public school spending on these students, assuming 80% end up in public school and are ultimately distributed according to Pew Research's estimates of the unauthorized population by state. Again, we highlight that these are not forecasts, but rather scenarios which may be helpful in understanding the indicative impact of a large number of asylum seeking minors on the public school systems of key states.
For the 2019-2020 school year beginning in September, and including asylum migrants arriving from Jan. 1 - Aug 30, the California system would see the biggest influx of students at around 50,000. Texas would see 36,000; Florida 18,000; New York, 17,000 and New Jersey, 11,000. These represent 0.5 - 0.8% of the enrolled population. New Jersey, for example, would see about 4 asylum students per school, roughly one every other grade. This is not a tragedy and could reasonably be absorbed by the respective school systems. Still, most students would know about 'the asylum kids'. It would a meme, but it would not fundamentally change the way students or schools operate.
If we roll the numbers forward a year, this is no longer true. Should the situation not be resolved and asylum seeking continue at the pace we anticipate for the coming year, by September 2020, nearly 1,000,000 asylum children could be in the US (arriving Jan. 2019 - Aug. 2020). California's public school system would see 168,000; Florida, 59,000; and New Jersey, 36,000. In New Jersey, every grade would have at least one, typically one every other homeroom. This will be a big deal in terms of funding and voter perception. California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois are all scraping pennies together to cover state budgets. At average cost, New Jersey would have to pony up $700 million for the 2020-2021 school year to cover the asylum surge -- a political problem heading right into the 2020 election.
For Democrats, the current asylum policy may provide a kind of grim satisfaction in striking a blow at the Trump administration. But it is a dead-end. Twenty-one of the forty House seats the Democrats took from the Republicans in 2018 come from the seven states listed above. These were moderate Republican seats mostly, and the Democrats will lose them all. The asylum surge in Florida -- a critical swing state in the presidential election -- will push that state back towards the Republican column next year. And Democratic governors in California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois will be none too happy with their Congressional representatives.
As a consequence, Congressional Democrats will climb down sooner or later. In doing so, they will hand a victory to the White House, and in particular, to anti-immigration hawk Stephen Miller. The later the Democrats act, the more they will be forced to assume responsibility for unleashing a flood of asylum seekers on the US. Just as for the White House, there is no upside in delay for the Democrats.