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Alex Nowrasteh

Alex Nowrasteh

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. His popular publications have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere.

Articles by Alex Nowrasteh

The Good and Bad of Biden’s Plan to Legalize Illegal Immigrants

January 17, 2021

Recent news reports suggest that Joe Biden will propose a series of immigration bills for Congress to consider early in his administration. The bill with the most details reported so far would legalize the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. According to the quick news summaries of the possible bill, it is a simple legalization that would grant lawful status, the ability to earn a green card in five years, and citizenship in an additional three to virtually all illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. That is a vastly simpler and cheaper way for illegal immigrants to legalize compared to the expensive and complex schemes of earlier failed reform efforts.
The Good
The good part about this bill is that mass legalization would be very

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Election Results in Georgia Open Potential Path to Immigration Reform: Here Are Some Ideas

January 8, 2021

Georgia Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler lost to Democrats Jon Ossof and Raphael Warnock in a tight election. The Senate now has 50 Democrats (including 2 independents who caucus with Democrats) and 50 Republicans. With Kamala Harris as a tie-breaker, Democrats will now have an opportunity to reform the immigration system in 2021 as they will control Congress and the Presidency. President-elect Joe Biden said that he will “introduce” an immigration reform bill
This bodes well for immigration reform becoming law as the median voters in the Senate will be moderates like Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). Because the median voters in the Senate are moderate and the bill will need some Republican support, any legislation will also be moderate. The riots in the

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Only 44 Percent of Employment‐​Based Green Cards Were Granted to Workers in 2019

January 8, 2021

In normal operating years, the United States’ immigration system favors family reunification. This favor extends even in the so‐​called employment‐​based green card categories. The family members of immigrant workers must use employment‐​based green cards despite the text of the actual statute and other evidence that strongly suggests that this was not Congress’ intent. This is not unusual as Japan is the only OECD country that has more immigrant workers than immigrant family members, but the difference is larger in the United States than in other countries. Instead of a separate green card category for the spouses and children of workers, those family members get a green card that would otherwise have gone to a skilled worker.
In 2019, 56 percent of employment‐​based green cards went to

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Immigration Restrictionists Are Undermining American Institutions

January 5, 2021

Benjamin Powell and I wrote our book Wretched Refuse? The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions to address the argument that liberalized immigration will undermine the very American institutions that created economic prosperity that attracted immigrants here in the first place. Immigrants generally come from countries with political, cultural, and economic institutions that are less conducive to economic growth than those in the developed world. The fear is that they’d bring those anti‐​growth institutions with them. Thus, as their argument goes, the estimated enormous economic gains from liberalized immigrants are a deadly mirage and immigrants could actually kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. As we assiduously document, immigrants do not bring those institutions with

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American Compass Shouldn’t Reject the Economics of Immigration

December 30, 2020

The American Compass recently published a series of pieces about the economic successes of the Trump administration and whither national conservatism after his defeat by Joe Biden. Several commentators criticized the pieces for arguing that restrictive immigration policies were responsible for wage and employment growth during the Trump administration. Oren Cass, the executive director of American Compass, responded to that criticism with a piece arguing that lower immigration did result in higher wages and lower unemployment.
Cass wrote that those critics “fascinate me, in the same way an old-timey ‘cabinet of curiosities’ might capture the attention,” and responded with an essay that contemptuously dismisses social science on how immigration affects the labor market in favor of anecdotes

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We Should “Confront” China by Liberalizing Chinese Immigration

May 29, 2020

The Chinese government’s crackdown on dissidents in Hong Kong is just another indication of that government’s rising totalitarianism. Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote that the United States should let in any Hongkonger who wishes to leave – a proposal I agree with. However, the U.S. government is moving in the opposite direction. Not only has it virtually ended all immigration, including for those seeking refuge and asylum, but it will soon go further to limit the migration of Chinese students.
Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) recently introduced the Secure Campus Act that “would prohibit Chinese nationals from receiving visas to the United States for graduate or post‐​graduate studies in STEM fields.” Their press release cites the single example of the arrest of Arkansas

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Refugees in Texas

January 11, 2020

On Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo stating that Texas would not accept any refugees going forward. Governor Abbott is the first governor to request that refugees not be settled in his state since President Trump announced that states and localities would now have to opt in to receive refugees. Texas was the first state to refuse refugees after 42 other states decided to continue to accept them.
Trump’s new executive order requires states and localities to opt in to accept refugees, which is a clear ploy to get them to refuse. There’s no good reason for that as Trump reduced the nationwide number unilaterally, a power given to the president by a Congress that has decided that it doesn’t want to make law anymore, from 84,994 settled in fiscal

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8 People Died in Immigration Detention in 2019, 193 Since 2004

January 8, 2020

An important portion of President Trump’s immigration enforcement policy is immigrant detention. Immigrants who are apprehended at the border or in the interior of the United States are detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities until they are removed from the United States. In recent months, many reports have surfaced of immigrants who have died while in detention or shortly after being released to medical facilities for treatment. The rate of death in ICE detention facilities is an important metric of how humane those facilities are.
There are two primary pieces of data required to calculate the death rate in immigration detention: The number of people in detention each year and the number of deaths. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) runs all of the

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The Trump Administration’s Deportation Regime Is Faltering

December 12, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently released a report detailing deportations (henceforth “removals”) conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the fiscal year 2019. The DHS report divides removals into two categories based on the arresting agency: those removed from the interior of the United States and those removed from the border. Interior removals are those who are initially arrested by ICE and then subsequently removed. Border removals are individuals initially apprehended by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer while they attempted to illegally enter the United States. Those apprehended by CBP are still called removals because they are turned over to ICE who subsequently remove them. To a large degree, border apprehensions are independent

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The Pensacola Mass Shooting and Terrorism

December 7, 2019

Earlier today, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani of the Royal Saudi Airforce murdered three people and injured eight others in a mass shooting at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. Alshamrani was at the Naval Air Station learning how to fly. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are currently investigating whether Alshamrani’s mass shooting was a terrorist attack, but they have not reached a conclusion yet.
According to the Global Terrorism Database, terrorism is the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation. In other words, whether a crime is terrorism depends upon the motivation of the attacker, and his motivation isn’t known yet.
It may

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Workplace Immigration Enforcement Increases, Still Below Peak

December 6, 2019

Reporter Michelle Hackman of The Wall Street Journal has a piece out today about the increase in worksite immigration enforcement over the last few years. Her story focuses on the number of cases initiated and how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is focusing on immigration law while ignoring other offenses.
ICE also provided data to The Wall Street Journal showing that the number of administrative worksite arrests has also increased. Administrative arrests are for civil violations of American immigration law, such as illegal presence. Noncitizens are subject to administrative arrests, but not citizens, and it is the first step toward deporting an illegal immigrant.
Figure 1 puts the increase in administrative worksite arrests in historical context. Although the number is way up

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Criminal Apprehensions Fell Precipitously Along the Border in 2019

November 25, 2019

Customs and Border Protection apprehended 1,148,024 people during Fiscal Year 2019. Border Patrol apprehended 75 percent of them while CBP officers apprehended the remaining quarter. The number of people CBP apprehended was up 68 percent over 2018, but the number of criminals arrested in 2019 was only up about 15 percent over the previous year. As a result, criminal apprehensions in 2019 comprised the smallest share of all apprehensions since 2015, when publicly available data were first published online (Figure 1). We only have data for the first month of the 2020 fiscal year, so those numbers are included even though this post will not draw conclusions about 2020 from a single month of data.
Figure 1
CBP Apprehensions by Criminal Status, 2015-2020

Source: CBP
Note: 2020 data is for the

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Trump Administration Shows that DACA Applicants Have a Comparatively Low Arrest Rate

November 18, 2019

Over the weekend, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated an earlier report on arrests and apprehensions of illegal immigrants who requested Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The updated report shows that of the 888,818 people who applied for DACA, 118,371 had been arrested at one time or another.
Many of those arrested were not approved for DACA, but some were because many arrests don’t lead to convictions. Those 118,371 people had been arrested a total of 202,025 times for all crimes and civil infractions, including violations of immigration law. Subtracting the number arrested for immigration infractions lowers the number to 95,343 DACA applicants being arrested. The DACA applicant arrest rate was 80 percent below the non-DACA applicant (all others)

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Illegal Immigrants in Europe

November 15, 2019

Pew Research Center recently released a wonderful new report that estimates the illegal immigrant resident population in European Union and European Free Trade Association (EU-EFTA) countries. This is the first systematic report to estimate Europe’s illegal immigrant population along the lines that Pew and others use to estimate the U.S. illegal immigrant population. Illegal immigrants are a much larger population in the United States than in Europe.
Pew estimates that there are 3.9 million to 4.8 million illegal immigrants in EU-EFTA as of 2017. Those illegal immigrants come from countries outside of the EU-EFTA area. About 1 million illegal immigrants in EU-EFTA have pending asylum claims, so many will eventually earn legal status. As a percentage of the 525 million people living in the

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Immigration and Homicide Rates in New York City: 1850-2017

November 6, 2019

Research from 1994 to 2014 has generally found that there is a negative relationship between immigration and crime in the United States. According to those and other findings, all immigrants have a lower criminal incarceration rate and there are lower crime rates in the neighborhoods where they live. Even recent research on illegal immigration and crime has found a negative relationship.
All of those studies research the relationship between crime and immigration in recent years and decades – which is most relevant for setting public policy today. However, I recently came across historical homicide data for New York City going back to the 18th century. Although research from over a century ago generally found a negative relationship between crime and immigration too, historical homicide

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“Illegal Alien” Is One of Many Correct Legal Terms for “Illegal Immigrant”

October 14, 2019

Rhetoric plays an unfortunately large role in public policy debates. Generally, those who are particularly supportive of deporting illegal immigrants tend to call them “illegal aliens” while those who prefer legalization tend to use the term “undocumented immigrants.” As I’ve written before, these euphemisms are tiresome and don’t matter much so I use the term “illegal immigrants” because most people understand that.

However, one argument by immigration restrictionists in favor of using the term “illegal alien” is that it is the technical legal term. Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation makes this point. Representative Julian Castro (D-TX) introduced the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act recently to amend U.S. immigration law to, among

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“Illegal Alien” Is One of Many Correct Legal Terms for “Illegal Immigrant”

October 14, 2019

Rhetoric plays an unfortunately large role in public policy debates. Generally, those who are particularly supportive of deporting illegal immigrants tend to call them “illegal aliens” while those who prefer legalization tend to use the term “undocumented immigrants.” As I’ve written before, these euphemisms are tiresome and don’t matter much so I use the term “illegal immigrants” because most people understand that.

However, one argument by immigration restrictionists in favor of using the term “illegal alien” is that it is the technical legal term. Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation makes this point. Representative Julian Castro (D-TX) introduced the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act recently to amend U.S. immigration law to, among

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Border Patrol Agent Deaths in the Line of Duty, 2003-2019

October 10, 2019

Earlier this week, Border Patrol agent Robert Hotten died in the line of duty after he and other agents responded to motion sensors that detected illegal crossings in a remote area on the Arizona border. Chief patrol agent Roy Villareal told reporters that, “When Agent Hotten was found unresponsive, it appears that he had fallen and may have hit his head on some rocks, but again at this stage we don’t know that was the cause of death.” The FBI is now running the investigation into Hotten’s death although it appears to be accidental.
Donna Doss was the last Border Patrol agent to die in the line of duty in February 2019 when she was struck by a vehicle. Prior to her death, Rogelio Martinez died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in November 2017, but does not appear to have been

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Border Patrol Agent Deaths in the Line of Duty, 2003-2019

October 10, 2019

Earlier this week, Border Patrol agent Robert Hotten died in the line of duty after he and other agents responded to motion sensors that detected illegal crossings in a remote area on the Arizona border. Chief patrol agent Roy Villareal told reporters that, “When Agent Hotten was found unresponsive, it appears that he had fallen and may have hit his head on some rocks, but again at this stage we don’t know that was the cause of death.” The FBI is now running the investigation into Hotten’s death although it appears to be accidental.
Donna Doss was the last Border Patrol agent to die in the line of duty in February 2019 when she was struck by a vehicle. Prior to her death, Rogelio Martinez died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in November 2017, but does not appear to have been

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Uncomfortable Truths in Azar Gat’s Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism

October 9, 2019

Nationalism is notoriously difficult to define. Although politicians from President Trump to pundits like Ramesh Ponnuru praise nationalism and claim that it’s time has come, they rarely offer a definition. Even worse, political theorists have filled volumes with gobbledygook definitions that are difficult to summarize. The vagueness of nationalism stands in direct contrast to the simplicity of Marxian socialism, the totalitarian ideology of the left.
In American political parlance, nationalism means “pursuing policies that are best for your own country,” as opposed to all of the other ideologies that want to pursue policies that are bad for one’s own country. This isn’t satisfying. Nationalism must be more than just more formalized jingoism . . . I think.
Fortunately, recent scholars have

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Uncomfortable Truths in Azar Gat’s Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism

October 9, 2019

Nationalism is notoriously difficult to define. Although politicians from President Trump to pundits like Ramesh Ponnuru praise nationalism and claim that it’s time has come, they rarely offer a definition. Even worse, political theorists have filled volumes with gobbledygook definitions that are difficult to summarize. The vagueness of nationalism stands in direct contrast to the simplicity of Marxian socialism, the totalitarian ideology of the left.
In American political parlance, nationalism means “pursuing policies that are best for your own country,” as opposed to all of the other ideologies that want to pursue policies that are bad for one’s own country. This isn’t satisfying. Nationalism must be more than just more formalized jingoism . . . I think.
Fortunately, recent scholars have

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The Economics of Ethnic Enclaves

October 3, 2019

Ethnic enclaves are communities with high concentrations of one ethnic group usually resulting from immigration patterns. Many scholars believe that ethnic enclaves slow immigrant assimilation into American society, a phenomenon known as the “enclave thesis.” Recent academic literature on the enclave thesis has yielded mixed results, but there are also severe research design problems due to data limitations, a lack of definitional consensus, and seemingly insurmountable endogeneity. This post will analyze key findings within the ethnic enclave literature.
Background and Definitions
Concerns about ethnic enclaves, specifically their impact on assimilation and increased crime rates, run deep. Dan Cademan of the Center for Immigration Studies is concerned that they spread crime. Reihan Salam

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New Research on Illegal Immigration and Crime

September 24, 2019

How illegal immigrants affect crime is one of the most contentious subareas of debate in the entire immigration issue. Cato scholars have produced much original research on this topic, finding that illegal and legal immigrants both have lower incarceration rates than native-born Americans and lower criminal conviction rates in the state of Texas, the only state where data are available. We’ve also found that local government participation in immigration enforcement programs doesn’t affect crime rates.
Academic researchers have also stepped into the fray. Sociologists Michael Light and Ty Miller found that a higher illegal immigrant population does not increase violent crime rates. Those two researchers then teamed up with Purdue sociologist Bryan C. Kelly to look at how higher illegal

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Hong Kong Protests and the Political Effects of an “Exit” Option

September 17, 2019

Sparked by a Chinese extradition bill that would have made it possible for people in Hong Kong to be tried in the mainland’s justice system, protesters in Hong Kong have demonstrated against Beijing for 100 days as of this week. Since starting, the protests have grown to include a broader critique of the Chinese communist government’s policies in Hong Kong. In anticipation of a potential government crackdown, no doubt influenced by fear of a repeat of the massacre at Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, the option for protesters and their families to leave seems increasingly important.
One of the potential downsides of a universal “exit option” is that many Hongkongers would just leave the city permanently rather than trying to convince the government there to be more respectful of individual

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Deportation Rates in Historical Perspective

September 16, 2019

In last week’s Democratic primary debate, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos asked Joe Biden about President Obama’s record on immigration enforcement. Ramos said, “you served as vice president in an administration that deported 3 million people, the most ever in U.S. history.”
Democratic partisans were very upset on twitter, but the numbers don’t lie. President Obama removed more people from the United States, no matter how you dice the numbers than any other president. But was President Obama’s removal record an anomaly? To answer that question, I looked at the number of removals per president going back to 1892 when the government first started recording them. Table 1 shows the presidents, the number of removals under each administration, and the number of removals per year. The latter number

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President Trump’s DHS Sides with Cato on How to Measure Immigrant Welfare Use

August 15, 2019

The federal government released the final version of the public charge rule this week.  My colleague David Bier covered it extensively while some of our other Cato research on immigrant welfare use and how to reduce it was also prominently featured.  Unexpectedly, the published public choice rule contained a gem that seems to settle a long-running methodological disagreement between Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and myself on how best to measure immigrant use of welfare.
First, some background.  Cato has published two studies of immigrant welfare use since 2013.  Cato published the first such paper in 2013 that was written by Professor Leighton Ku, Director of the Center for Health Policy Research, and Brian Bruen, Lead Research Scientist & Lecturer in

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E-Verify Is Not an Effective Immigration Enforcement System, as Mississippi ICE Raids Show

August 13, 2019

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided many meat processing plants in Mississippi and arrested 680 suspected illegal immigrants. The raids were front page news as some of their children were pleading on television for the government to release their parents. Political pundits were busy excusing the raids and calling for more or highlighting the plight of the families left behind and the supposed hypocrisy of immigration enforcers who aren’t targeting President Trump’s properties. 
Although the plight of families and discrepancies in enforcement based on possible political sensitivities is worth investigating, the long-term lesson from the Mississippi raids is that E-Verify does not stop the hiring of illegal immigrants. Mississippi passed a mandate that required all

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Illegal Immigrants – and Other Non-Citizens – Should Not Receive Government Healthcare

July 9, 2019

Last week during one of their debates, all Democratic primary candidates supported government health care for illegal immigrants. This type of position is extremely damaging politically and, if enacted, would unnecessarily burden taxpayers for likely zero improvements in health outcomes. I expect the eventual Democratic candidate for president to not support this type of proposal, but it should be nipped in the bud.
After the debate, Democratic candidate Julian Castro argued that extending government health care to illegal immigrants would not be a big deal. “[W]e already pay for the health care of undocumented immigrants,” Castro said. “It’s called the emergency room. People show up in the emergency room and they get care, as they should.” It is true that some illegal immigrants use

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Congress Can Recapture 4.5 Million Unused Green Cards

July 1, 2019

Since 1921, Congress has set hard numerical caps for most types of immigrants coming to the United States on green cards.  They have always included uncapped exceptions to green cards for most spouses and minor children of American citizens, but other family-based green card categories and economic or employment-based green cards have had numerical caps based on the category, country of origin, or both since 1921.  
During that time, Congress allocated 25,294,990 green cards under the numerically-limited green cards categories, but the government only issued 20,567,754 green cards that counted against those caps.  Recapturing all those historically unused green cards, minus the 180,000 green cards recaptured in other legislation, would yield 4,547,236 additional green cards – enough

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Deaths in the Line of Duty

June 26, 2019

Last week, President Trump tweeted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were going to soon launch a major operation to arrest and deport illegal immigrants inside of the United States.  On Saturday, President Trump reversed himself and said that he is going to delay the operation.  The Washington Examiner is now reporting that the operation is canceled permanently because acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan leaked the details, thus removing the element of surprise and putting the “public at risk and law enforcement officers in harm’s way” according to Brandon Judd, the head of the National Border Patrol Council. 
Mr. Judd may be correct that the leaked details of the proposed raids would put ICE agent at increased risk of harm.  After all,

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