Illegal immigration is one of the most controversial topics of this overheated election season. Suggestions to curb illegal immigration by building a wall or increasing enforcement of existing laws are met with passionate accusations of racism and white supremacy. The Census can’t even ask about citizenship.

What is the bottomline cost to the United States and Nevada? That too is controversial. Every time someone comes up with a cost estimate, someone else declares the study fatally flawed, because the estimates are inflated or deflated or simply unknowable since people in the country illegally will not admit it.

Illegal immigrants pay taxes the same as everyone else — sales tax, income tax, property tax, vehicle registration fees. They also receive costly government services — education, welfare, criminal justice system, health care.

Recently the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) calculated that illegal immigrants received $135 billion a year in various expenditures, but paid in only $19 billion in national, state and local taxes — for a total “fiscal burden” of $116 billion. Since Nevada has about 2 percent of the nation’s illegal immigrant population that works out to more than $2 billion for the state’s taxpayers.

A couple of years ago Pew Research Center broke down just one aspect of the cost of illegal immigration — K-12 education.

Pew reported that in 2014, “States in the West and Southwest tend to have the highest shares of K-12 students with unauthorized immigrant parents. In six states, the share is 10% or more: Nevada (17.6%) ranked first, followed by Texas (13.4%), California (12.3%), Arizona (12.2%), Colorado (10.2%) and New Mexico (10.1%).” Of course, many of those children were born in the United States and thus are themselves American citizens, but would not be in class had their parents not come here without the benefit of legal entry.

At the time Nevada was spending about $4 billion a year on K-12 education, meaning the children of illegals cost Nevada about $700 million a year. Spending has increased since then.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of Plyler v. Doe that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education due to their immigration status, because the 14th Amendment states, “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Recently the Las Vegas newspaper delved into another cost of illegal immigration, reporting that about one out of 14 inmates serving time in Nevada prisons is in the country illegally — a total of 1,000 criminals, 500 of them convicted of violent felonies. That costs Nevada taxpayers about $21 million a year, the newspaper calculated.

A study by FAIR a decade ago calculated the cost to Nevadans for health care, “State-funded and uncompensated outlays for health care provided to Nevada’s illegal alien population amount to more than an estimated $85 million a year. That is a net cost after crediting compensation from the federal government. Nevadans who have medical insurance pay higher medical insurance bills to cover the costs of those without insurance.”

While most of the debate about illegal immigration revolves about high-minded concepts of human dignity and compassion and the rule of law, there is a cost to unfettered illegal immigration that should not be ignored in this ongoing debate. — TM