Immigration enforcement has ballooned into the biggest source of spending in federal law enforcement, a new report says.

Last fiscal year, the United States spent $18 billion on immigration and port security. That was more than drug enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI combined.

border fence focus

Photo: AZPM

Along U.S.-Mexican border outside of Nogales.

In fact, there are more people who have been jailed on immigration charges than all other federal crimes put together.

Those are the findings in the report released Monday by the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

"It’s frequently said that there isn’t any consensus in the immigration debate," said Doris Meissner, director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program and co-author of the report for the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank. "In fact there is and has been consensus, and these numbers and this record I think show that."

The numbers show political affiliation doesn’t matter when it comes to spending on immigration policy. Both parties are willing to spend the money on enforcement first.

Adjusting for inflation, the United States spent a little more than $1 billion in 1986, the year of the last significant immigration reform, the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Since then, nearly $200 billion has been spent on border security, according to the report.

The report concludes that immigration enforcement has been successful. The question, Meissner asked, is will the country continue to think the cost is worth it?

"Is this an investment that is paying off? Those kinds of questions I hope, will be asked based on the information that we've provided," she said.

Read the 174-page report here: View at Google Docs | Download File