WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It would cost at least $94 billion to find, detain and remove all 12 million people believed to be staying illegally in the United States, the federal government estimated Wednesday.
Day laborers, who identified themselves as illegal immigrants, talk to a potential employer in Dallas, Texas.
Julie Myers, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, gave the figure during a hearing before a Senate committee Wednesday.
She acknowledged it was based on "very rough calculations."
An ICE spokesman later said the $94 billion did not include the cost of finding illegal immigrants, nor court costs -- dollar amounts that are largely unknowable.
He said the amount was calculated by multiplying the estimated 12 million people by the average cost of detaining people for a day: $97. That was multiplied by the average length of detention: 32 days.
ICE officials also considered transportation costs, which average $1,000 per person.
But that amount can vary widely, the spokesman said. Some deportees are simply driven by bus across the border, while others must take charter planes to distant countries, he said.
Finally, the department looked at personnel costs, bringing the total to roughly $94 billion.
The statistic is likely to become one more piece of fodder in the heated debate between the Bush administration -- which has fought for a "path to citizenship" for people who have lived peaceably in the United States -- and those who want to see more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws, up to, and including, the deportation of all illegal immigrants.