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Alex Nowrasteh

Alex Nowrasteh

He 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. His academic publications have appeared in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the Fletcher Security Review, and Public Choice.

Articles by Alex Nowrasteh

The State of Immigration Enforcement

5 days ago

President Trump’s administration is ramping up immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States and along the border.  However, the near-half-century low in illegal border crossers, the longer-settled illegal immigrant population inside of the country, and resistance by state and local governments are hampering his administration’s efforts to boost deportation.  Try as he might, his administration will not be able to ramp up removals to the level seen in the first term of the Obama administration. 
Definitions
A removal is defined as when a person is transported outside of the United States because he or she violated the immigration laws.  Removals are not technically a punishment under U.S. law as it is a civil penalty and not a criminal one.  Some immigration laws are

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The 14 Most Common Arguments against Immigration and Why They’re Wrong

19 days ago

Arguments against immigration come across my desk every day but I rarely encounter a unique one.  In 2016, I wrote a blog responding to the most common arguments with links to different research.  Since then, academics and policy analysts have produced new research that should be included.  These are the main arguments against immigration, my quick responses to them, and links to some of the most relevant evidence:
1. “Immigrants will take American jobs, lower our wages, and especially hurt the poor.”
This is the most common argument and also the one with the greatest amount of evidence rebutting it.  First, the displacement effect is small if it even affects natives at all.  Immigrants are typically attracted to growing regions and they increase the supply and demand sides of the

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The Toronto “Van Incident” and Terrorism in Canada

27 days ago

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said that there is no evidence that yesterday’s “van incident,” where Alek Minassian murdered 10 people and injured 15 others on a busy sidewalk with a van, was a terrorist attack.  To count as a terrorist attack, Minassian’s motivations must have been political, religious, or social in nature beyond simply a desire to terrorize or murder others.  Minassian’s motives are so far unclear with much speculation regarding his social awkwardness and possible anti-women opinions but, so far, little surrounding his political or religious opinions.  This could change as police and investigators uncover new facts.
Many in media and government, prompted by Minassian’s mass murder, are commenting on terrorism in Canada but with little context.  By using the

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Criminal Conviction Rates in Texas in 2016

28 days ago

Cato published my recent Immigration Research and Policy Brief that relied on Texas state criminal data to compare the conviction rates of native-born Americans, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants. That Texas state data was of such high quality that I was even able to compare conviction rates by the type of crime. The result was that in 2015 the criminal conviction and arrest rates for illegal immigrants were below that of native-born Americans for virtually all crimes including homicide, sexual assault, and larceny. This is just further evidence that illegal immigrants are less crime-prone than native-born Americans. I had to limit my Brief to focus on convictions only in 2015, although I also had the Texas conviction data for 2016, because there were no estimates of the

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Democrats and Republicans Should Both Oppose E-Verify

April 17, 2018

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, a group that meets every 20 years to recommend changes to Florida’s state constitution, yesterday rejected a proposal to add mandatory E-Verify to the ballot next November.  The American Business Immigration Coalition and Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund led the fight against the proposal (full disclosure: those groups used Cato’s research in their efforts to stop E-Verify and I did have contact with them during the Florida debate).  The most convincing arguments against E-Verify were those that highlighted its inaccuracies, potential damage to the economy, and that it would not even effectively restrict illegal immigrant access to employment. 
Just to recap, E-Verify is a federal electronic eligibility for employment verification

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287(g) Does Not Fight Crime, But It Does Increase Assaults against Police Officers

April 11, 2018

Fear of immigrant criminality is driving many changes to domestic immigration enforcement programs during the Trump administration.  One of the earliest such changes was the reactivation of the 287(g) program that allows state or local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law after entering into a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The Obama administration substantially scaled back 287(g) after numerous government reports found serious flaws in the program.  Gaston County, North Carolina sheriff Alan Cloninger said his sheriff’s office enrolled in 287(g), “for the protection of the citizens of Gaston County.”  Sheriff Cloninger’s desire to increase public safety is the primary reason, if not the only reason, why 76 local and state level law

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Blame Mexico First

April 10, 2018

There are many aggravating tropes that keep reemerging in the debate over immigration policy but one of the worst is that every problem with the U.S. immigration system is the result of the supposedly perfidious Mexico.  Changes in Mexican law and policy certainly have an impact on immigration to the United States but it is not true that our laws would operate wonderfully even if foreign governments had policies to support them.  Those who blame Mexico should, at the minimum, get their stories straight. 
In many versions of this tale, the Mexican government is hypocritical because its immigration laws are strict yet it complains about laws like SB 1070 in Arizona and the deportation of Mexican citizens from the United States.  Talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh famously used this

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Businesses Don’t Comply with E-Verify Mandates

April 5, 2018

E-Verify is an electronic eligibility for employment verification system run by the federal government. It is supposed to check the identity information of new hires against government databases to see if they are legally eligible to work. The government created E-Verify to deny employment to illegal immigrants as a means of turning off the wage magnet that attracts so many here in the first place, but it has serious and unsolvable problems. Four states have mandated E-Verify for all new hires: Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi. Their experiences with a state-level E-Verify mandate have produced several lessons of how the program would likely function if Congress ever mandated it nationwide.
The first lesson is that E-Verify data is insufficiently detailed to gauge the

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Sending Troops to the Border Is Unnecessary and Dangerous

April 4, 2018

President Trump recently said that he would deploy troops to the Mexican border in response to the over-hyped story of about 1,000 Central Americans who are walking to the U.S. border to ask for asylum, which is their right under American law. “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” President Trump said on Tuesday. “That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.” On the contrary, American Presidents have ordered troops to the border to assist in immigration enforcement several times and all of them when the flow of illegal immigrants was significantly greater than it is today.
When the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) launched Operation Wetback in 1954 (yes, that

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Immigration and Naturalization in the Western Tradition

March 26, 2018

Congress passed its first naturalization law 228 years ago on March 26, 1790. The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the most open naturalization law in the world at the time, allowing free white persons of good character to naturalize after two years of residence in the country and one year of residence in a particular state. Denying citizenship to American Indians, free blacks, indentured servants, and others who did not count as free white persons was a great injustice, but the 1790 Act was an improvement over other countries at the time that also limited naturalization based on gender, skill, or religion in addition to race. Although the Naturalization Act of 1790 did place some restrictions on who could become a citizen, it placed no restrictions on who could enter the United States.

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Serious Problems with South Carolina’s E-Verify Mandate

March 23, 2018

E-Verify is a federal government program that allows businesses to check the identities of new hires against federal databases to judge whether they are eligible to legally work in the United States.  The goal of the program is to deny illegal immigrants work in the United States.  E-Verify has serious problems as it misidentifies a small portion of legal workers as illegal immigrants, imposes a serious regulatory burden on employers and employees, increases employee turnover costs, is expensive, stimulates black market document forging and identity theft, might increase crime, and fails in its primary function of turning off the wage magnet. 
Despite all of those problems, the best thing about E-Verify is that many employers do not use it in states where it is mandated and workers

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More Americans Die in Animal Attacks than in Terrorist Attacks

March 8, 2018

Comparing the risk of dying in a terrorist attack to a common household accident like slipping in the bathtub is inappropriate.  After all, inanimate objects like bathtubs do not intend to kill, so people rightly distinguish them from murderers and terrorists.  My research on the hazard posed by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil focuses on comparing that threat to homicide, since both are intentional actions meant to kill or otherwise harm people.  Homicide is common in the United States, so it is not necessarily the best comparison to deaths in infrequent terror attacks.  Yesterday, economist Tyler Cowen wrote about another comparable hazard that people are aware of, that is infrequent, where there is a debatable element of intentionality, but that does not elicit nearly the same

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Government Immigrant Assimilation Programs Can Backfire: The Case of German Americans

March 6, 2018

The assimilation of immigrants and their descendants is important to their long-run success and to maximize the benefits from immigration.  Current research indicates that today’s immigrants are assimilating well.  A massive 520-page literature survey by the National Academy of Sciences found that assimilation is proceeding apace in the United States although some of those gains are masked by a phenomenon called “ethnic attrition” whereby the most successful and integrated descendants of immigrants cease to self-identify as members of their ancestor’s ethnic groups.  Numerous OECD reports find greater economic integration of immigrants and their descendants in the United States relative to other developed countries, even when it comes to job matching.  Research by University of

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E-Verify Could Have Increased Crime in Arizona

February 28, 2018

Illegal immigrants who can’t work are more likely to commit crimes in order to support themselves, according to a superb new paper by Matthew Freedman, Emily Owens, and Sarah Bohn that is forthcoming in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.  They examined administrative data from Bexar County, Texas and found an increase in felony charges filed against residents who were most likely to be illegal immigrants after the Immigration Reform and Control Act made it unlawful for illegal immigrants to work in the United States.   
Their finding is especially relevant for the current debate over E-Verify, an electronic eligibility for employment verification system that is supposed to exclude illegal immigrants from the workforce.  The goal of E-Verify is to turn off the wage magnet

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DHS Uses Hyperbole, Half-Truths, & Inaccuracies to Influence Senate Vote on Rounds-Collins Dreamer Amendment

February 15, 2018

The Senate is currently debating many competing proposals that would legalize some Dreamers, enhance border security, and reform legal immigration.  This morning, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release criticizing the bipartisan Rounds-Collins proposal that has more support in the Senate than any other amendment.  This DHS press release was accompanied by a veto threat from President Trump.  Most of DHS’ talking points against Rounds-Collins are either hyperbolic, half-truths, or just inaccurate.  Below, I will respond to the three most egregious sections of the DHS press release.

By halting immigration enforcement for all aliens who will arrive before June 2018, it ignores the lessons of 9/11 and significantly increases the risk of crime and terrorism.

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The Political Exploitation of Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez

February 8, 2018

Last November, Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died in the line of duty.  At the time, it was unclear how Agent Martinez perished and many jumped to the conclusion that he was murdered.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) said Martinez was killed in “an attack.”  Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) went further, arguing that Rogelio’s death shows just how insecure the border is and that the Border Patrol needs more resources.  A spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, the union for Border Patrol agents, said that Martinez may have been bludgeoned to death by rocks.  They all jumped the gun.
Martinez’s death remains a mystery, but an FBI investigation found no evidence of an attack.  The government records all Border Patrol agent and Customs officer deaths in the line of

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Responding to John R. Lott Jr. on Illegal Immigrant Criminality

February 6, 2018

John R. Lott Jr. responded to my criticism of his working paper where he claims to have found that illegal immigrants are more likely to be admitted to Arizona state adult correctional facilities than other Arizona residents.  Lott did not respond to my main criticism directly, which is that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) data do not allow him to identify illegal immigrants with nearly as much precision as he claimed in his paper. 
Praising the supposedly precise ADC data, Lott claimed that the “huge advantage of using the data that will be presented here from the Arizona Department of Corrections is that over our 32.5-year period we know each prisoner who entered the prison system, their criminal convictions history, and whether he is a documented or undocumented

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The Fatal Flaw in John R. Lott Jr.’s Study on Illegal Immigrant Crime in Arizona

February 5, 2018

Economist John R. Lott Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center released a working paper in which he purports to find that illegal immigrants in Arizona from 1985 through 2017 have a far higher prison admissions rate than U.S. citizens. Media from Fox News to the Washington Times and the Arizona Republic have reported on Lott’s claims while Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) have echoed them from their positions of authority. However, Lott made a small but fatal error that undermines his finding. 
Lott wrote his paper based on a dataset he obtained from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) that lists all admitted prisoners in the state of Arizona from 1985 to 2017. According to Lott, the data allowed him to identify “whether they [the

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Economic Growth Under the Trump Immigration Plan

February 2, 2018

Economic growth is a poorly understood phenomenon by economists.  There are many schools of thought and models that try to understand it but we are far away from understanding it as well as how micro markets function.  We may never do so.  But there seem to be two non-mutually exclusive ways that growth increases.  The first is called intensive growth whereby our economy becomes more efficient and produces the same amount of output for equal or lesser inputs.  The second is called extensive growth whereby economic output increases because more factors of production are added such as capital, land, entrepreneurship, or laborers. 
Based mainly on extensive growth, many economic models try to predict how changes in the U.S. population affect gross domestic product (GDP), itself an

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President Trump’s Amnesty Plan

January 26, 2018

The White House today released four principles for immigration reform.  Overall, the Trump plan would cut legal immigration and spend about $25 billion on border security and a wall.  In exchange, the Trump administration has decided to support an amnesty and citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million DREAMers. 
It’s unclear how the administration estimates that only 1.8 million illegal immigrant DREAMers would gain citizenship as the number could be very different from that.  Most likely, they assume that many people could have earned DACA but did not.    
The conservative reaction to Trump’s support for amnesty and citizenship, even though he’s always said that he could accept such a compromise, has been swift.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) preempted the rollout of Trump’s principles by

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Reforming the Diversity Visa Could Pay for the Wall: Here’s How

January 22, 2018

Any bipartisan deal to reopen the federal government and deal with DACA would have to legalize some of the DREAMers, increase border enforcement, amend the diversity immigrant visa program, and fund the construction of a border wall. Democrats have compromised on the border wall but they are still only going to fund about half the lowest estimated cost of about $8 to $10 billion. There is a way to fund construction of the border wall without using taxpayer money or for Congressional Democrats to allocate a penny more than the $8 to $10 billion that they are considering: The Border Wall Investment Visa Program (BWIVP).
As proposed here, this new program would take 10,000 green cards from the 50,000 currently allocated diversity immigrant visa program, or whatever successor program

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Diversity Visa Program Fixes that Should Satisfy Republicans and Democrats

January 20, 2018

Legalizing the DREAMers, building the wall, boosting border security, and reforming the diversity immigrant visa program are the components of a successful legislative deal to reopen the federal government.  Reforming the diversity visa presents some unique challenges because Congress does not want to cut the number of green cards, but many Democrats–especially members of the Black and Hispanic Congressional Caucuses–worry that any substantial change to the program would diminish the number of immigrants from the nations that are favored under the current system. 
Fortunately, there is a policy solution that should satisfy both sides: convert the diversity visa into a merit-based system that still favors immigrants from the regions of the world that qualify for the diversity visa.

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Congressman Perry, Terrorists Did Not Cross the Border to Attack Las Vegas

January 19, 2018

Republican Congressman Scott Perry (PA) was a guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight last night in a segment about the continuing investigation into the Las Vegas shooting earlier this year. Congressman Perry said:
I have been made aware of what I believe to be credible evidence, credible information regarding potential terrorist infiltration through the southern border regarding this incident.
When pressed by another guest, Congressman Perry offered zero evidence but did say that “I have received what I feel to be and believe to be credible evidence of a possible terrorist nexus.”  With all due respect to Congressman Perry’s feelings, they are not evidence and a serious charge like his requires evidence.  If he does have such evidence, he should release it immediately.  
In researching my

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Haitian Guest Workers Overstayed Their Visas Because the Government Cancelled the Program for Them

January 18, 2018

The Trump Administration recently ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stop issuing H-2A visas for temporary agricultural work to Haitians.  One of the reasons given for not allowing Haitians to use the visas was their high overstay rate of about 40 percent in 2016, meaning that about 40 percent of Haitian workers on the H-2A did not leave at the end of the season as they were supposed to.  Depending exactly how overstay rates are calculated, they normally range from about 1 to 3.5 percent for workers on H-2A visas. 
One reason the H-2A overstay rate is so low is that workers have an excellent chance of coming back year after year if they abide by the rules of the program but, if they overstay or otherwise break the rules, then their chance of earning the visa in the

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New Government Terrorism Report Provides Little Useful Information

January 16, 2018

The Departments of Homeland Security and Justice (DHS/DOJ) released a report this morning on the threat of international terrorism.  This report was required by President Donald Trump’s executive order that, among other things, originally established the infamous travel ban.  The new DHS/DOJ report produces little new information on immigration and terrorism and portrays some misleading and meaningless statistics as important findings.  Interestingly, the draft version of the report had more interesting and useful information that was mysteriously edited out of the final public version.  It’s remarkable that, given almost a year to produce such a report and with the vast resources of the federal government combined with reams of government information unavailable to the public, that

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What to Do with Diversity Green Cards in the DACA Deal

January 11, 2018

A surprising Politico story this morning laid out the contours of a rough deal to legalize the DACA recipients.  There are several welcome developments.  First, it would be a wider DREAM Act that goes beyond the DACA recipients.  In exchange, it would restrict the legalized DREAMers from sponsoring their parents (essentially duplicating current law), but it does allow the parents 3-year renewable legal status.  This is a fine compromise.  Second, it would not eliminate any of the family-sponsored green card categories, a wonderful development.  Third, it would use the 50,000 annual diversity green cards, also known as the visa lottery, to legalize Salvadorans here on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who just had their status canceled (this status will expire in 18 months).  This third

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Immigrants Don’t Lower Blue-Collar American Wages

January 9, 2018

Yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) gave a speech on the floor of the Senate about “putting an end, once and for all, to chain migrations.”  The main argument that Senator Cotton made is that immigrants lower the wages of blue-collar American workers.  Senator Cotton said:
That means that you have thousands and thousands of workers with absolutely no consideration for what it means for the workers who are already here … The wages of people who work with their hands and work on their feet hold the type of jobs that require you to take a shower after you get off work, not before they got to work.  Blue-collar workers have begun to see an increase in their wages over the last year for the first time in decades and that is in no small part because of the administration’s efforts to get

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What Is Nationalism and What Does it Mean for Liberty?

January 4, 2018

From President Donald Trump to the rise of new nationalist political parties in Europe to a general resurgence of the term in recent years, nationalism seems to be on the march.  Nationalism is a political movement that has made major inroads in recent years while preaching a message of immigration restrictionism, trade protectionism, and a stronger government devoted to defending citizens from (mostly) imaginary harms.  But besides some policy positions and a style of governance, there is not a good working definition of nationalism widely used in popular discourse and there is almost no attempt to distinguish it from patriotism.  My base assumption was that nationalism must be something more than crude jingoistic tribalism, but few ventured beyond that.  Those reasons prompted me to

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New Report on Illegal Immigrant Criminality Reveals Little & Admits Its Own Shortcomings

December 21, 2017

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) today released a report that found that about 94 percent of foreign-born inmates in Federal prisons are illegal immigrants.  That is not surprising, as illegal immigrants convicted of an immigration offense are incarcerated in federal prison and account 7.3 percent of all inmates.  Likewise, drug traffickers who cross international borders are also in federal prison and account 46.3 percent of all prisoners.  Thus, illegal immigrants are overrepresented in federal prison because the federal government enforces immigration laws and many drug trafficking laws but only a small fraction of all those incarcerated for all crimes committed in the U.S. are in federal prisons. 
The authors of this DHS/DOJ report do

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Two Problems with the CBO’s Score of the DREAM Act and One Solution

December 18, 2017

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released a fiscal impact score for the DREAM Act.  It found that the DREAM Act would increase deficits by about $25.9 billion over the next decade.  There are at least two problems with this CBO score and a solution that should make fiscal conservatives and DREAM Act supporters happy.    
What is the Baseline?
The CBO’s black box fiscal estimates are frequently frustrating and this one is no exception.  The biggest difficulty is telling what their baseline is.  Their baseline could be that 700,000 DACA recipients continue to work legally, which is roughly the current situation but will continue to decline rapidly over the next few years as DACA disintegrates.  The baseline could also assume zero government costs incurred while identifying

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