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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

An American Visa for Domestic Workers: Taking a Lesson from Singapore

12 days ago

I’ll be a participant in an immigration conference in Michigan organized by Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation later this week.  As part of the conference, Dalmia asked the participants to write essays on specific immigration subtopics that she will later assemble in a book (if I recall correctly).  Dalmia asked me to write an essay on Singapore’s immigration policy – a challenging assignment as I only had the vaguest impressions of their immigration policy from a few readings over the years and a lunch meeting with Singaporean officials from the Ministry of Manpower five years ago. 
Singapore’s immigration system has two main tiers.  The first tier is for highly paid professionals and their families who are encouraged to become permanent residents and eventually citizens.  The

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PragerU’s “A Nation of Immigrants” Video Has Serious Problems

26 days ago

Prager University (PragerU), founded by radio talk-show host Dennis Prager and Allen Estrin, is a non-profit that makes short videos on political, economic, cultural, and philosophical topics from a conservative perspective.  Last month, PragerU released a video called “A Nation of Immigration” narrated by Michelle Malkin, an individual most famously known for her defense of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  The video is poorly framed, rife with errors and half-truths, leaves out a lot of relevant information, and comes to an anti-legal immigration conclusion that is unsupported by the evidence presented in the rest of the video.  Below are quotes and claims from the video followed by my responses. 
The United States still maintains the most generous

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What If There Were Millions More Illegal Immigrants?

28 days ago

A recent paper published in the journal PLoS ONE claims that the number of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States is at least 50 percent greater than previously thought and likely to be twice as high.  Researchers Mohammad M. Fazel-Zarandi, Jonathan S. Feinstein, and Edward H. Kaplan write that:
Our conservative estimate is 16.7 million for 2016, nearly fifty percent higher than the most prominent current estimate of 11.3 million, which is based on survey data and thus different sources and methods. The mean estimate based on our simulation analysis is 22.1 million, essentially double the current widely accepted estimate.
That PLos ONE paper levels a serious charge as virtually all demographers and researchers in think-tanks on both sides of the immigration issue

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E-Verify Wouldn’t Have Prevented Mollie Tibbetts’ Murder

September 7, 2018

Shortly after Iowa prosecutors charged illegal immigrant Christian Rivera with the murder of Molly Tibbetts in August, his Iowa employer erroneously stated that E-Verify had approved him for legal work. That later turned out to be false as his employer, Yarrabee Farms, ran his name and Social Security Number (SSN) through another system called Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) that merely verified that the name and number matched, not E-Verify.  That mix-up has inspired many to argue that an E-Verify mandate for all new hires would have stopped Rivera from working and, thus, prevented the murder of Mollie Tibbetts.  That’s almost certainly not true.  New details reveal that E-Verify would likely not have prevented Rivera from working.    
E-Verify is an electronic

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Peter Kirsanow’s Numerous Errors

August 27, 2018

Last Thursday, Tucker Carlson invited Peter Kirsanow onto his top-rated Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss illegal immigration and crime. They began the segment by playing a recent clip of me and Carlson arguing about data on illegal immigrant criminality in Texas. In that earlier segment, Carlson said we don’t have good data on illegal immigrant criminality and I said we do, specifically from the state of Texas. The data show that illegal immigrants have a lower murder conviction rate than native-born Americans. 
Kirsanow responded to my clip in a multi-minute near-monologue. Unfortunately, Kirsanow made many errors and misstatements. His comments on television parroted a piece that he wrote earlier this year in National Review. That piece made so many mathematical,

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The Murder of Mollie Tibbetts and Illegal Immigrant Crime: The Facts

August 22, 2018

Yesterday, authorities in Iowa charged 24-year old Cristhian Bahena Rivera with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts. Facts in these types of cases come out slowly and some details, substantive or minor, may change in the months ahead that could alter the correct view of this case. But nothing can change the fact that the murder of Tibbetts was a brutal and unforgivable act and that the murderer should be punished to the full extent of the law. Rivera is charged with that murder and there is a lot of evidence to support a conviction.    
This terrible murder is already feeding into a political firestorm. People with a political axe to grind, those who want to distract from the recent conviction of Paul Manafort and plea deal for Michael Cohen, and partisans who want to compare Tibbetts’

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The Chance of Being Murdered or Injured in a Terrorist Attack in the United Kingdom

August 15, 2018

On Tuesday, a Sudanese immigrant to the United Kingdom named Salih Khater crashed his car into cyclists and pedestrians in a terrorist attack in London. Fortunately, Khater did not murder anybody in his attack but he did injure three pedestrians, one of whom was so lightly wounded that he was treated at the scene and released. The other two wounded people have since been released from the hospital. 
Terrorism has been relatively common in the United Kingdom for decades, from the Irish Republican Army to al Qaeda to ISIS. However, there is little research on the actual risk of a British person being killed or injured in a terrorist attack. This post is an attempt to quantify that risk.
According to data from the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, the RAND

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Mexico is Not Sending Its Murderers: Homicide Rates on the Mexican Border

July 31, 2018

President Trump tweeted this morning that, “One of the reasons we need Great Border Security is that Mexico’s murder rate in 2017 increased by 27% to 31,174 people killed, a record! The Democrats want Open Borders. I want Maximum Border Security and respect for ICE and our great Law Enforcement Professionals!”  He tweeted this because he’s spent the last few days stating that he would shut down the government if Congress did not adopt his immigration proposed reforms in the upcoming budget debate, especially the funding for the construction of a border wall.
Besides the political motivation for his tweet, President Trump seems to have assumed that crime in Mexico bleeds north into the United States, so more border security is required to prevent that from happening as murder rates

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Birthright Citizenship Slightly Boosts Immigrant Assimilation: What the Research Says

July 30, 2018

Former White House national security official and Hillsdale College lecturer Michael Anton wrote an op-ed recently in the Washington Post where he used falsified quotes, poor legal reasoning, and displayed ignorance of the history and debates surrounding the 14th amendment to argue that President Trump should unilaterally end birthright citizenship (here’s Anton’s poor response to the devastating criticisms). 
Few commentators discussed what the actual effects of removing birthright citizenship would be and instead focused on the comparatively unimportant legal questions.  As an exception, my piece for the American Conservative argued that such a move would diminish immigrant assimilation in the United States.  However, I neglected to mention any of the social science that backed up

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Immigration Politics and the Perception of Chaos

July 25, 2018

A compelling explanation for why the American immigration system is more restrictive than other developed countries is that voters here do not feel that they have control over the border.  Pictures, videos, and the widespread perception that there is chaos on the border caused by illegal immigrants, despite facts to the contrary, have the effect of convincing American voters to be less liberal on the issue than they otherwise would be.  A recent paper by political scientists Allison Harell, Stuart Soroka, and Shanto Iyengar in the journal Political Psychology tests this “locus of control” argument by comparing immigration policies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom with perceptions of control over immigration and its impact on their society. 
Harell et alia examine

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Venezuela: The Biggest Humanitarian Crisis That You Haven’t Heard Of

July 20, 2018

Venezuelans are fleeing their home country in large numbers due to the economic failure of socialism as well as the increasing authoritarianism of the Venezuelan government.  The economic collapse there, inflation reached tens of thousands of percent this year, and the escalating brutality of the Maduro dictatorship are creating a crisis unlike any faced in South America in decades – if ever.  This blog post will provide some information on the scale of the Venezuelan exodus and some suggestions for what other countries can do to mitigate problems caused by the flow of refugees and asylum seekers.   
Background
The roots of the current collapse of Venezuela run deep. Hugo Chavez became the president of Venezuela in 1999 and immediately set about concentrating economic power in the

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Free Trade Agreements Don’t Increase the Number of Asylum Seekers and Refugees

July 11, 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the recent winner of a Democratic primary for Congress in New York, argued that free-trade agreements (FTAs) have caused the number of refugees and asylum seekers to the United States to grow.  This is a somewhat common claim among some critics of trade or FTAs in particular. 

To test this claim, we gathered a list of all the FTAs that the United States has signed and how many asylum seekers and refugees they sent to the United States since the year 2000.  We combined all asylum seekers, affirmative and defensive, that were counted by the United Nation Human Rights Commission.  Some asylum seekers from these countries are double or triple counted due to the oddities of the asylum system.  We then added refugee admissions from the Department of Homeland

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Gulf States Are Still Sponsoring Many Syrians

July 5, 2018

A persistent myth surrounding the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis is that the wealthy Gulf States are not sponsoring Syrian refugees.  As I wrote in late 2015, the Gulf States did not host refugees but they were sponsoring almost 1.4 million Syrian emigrants in 2013 – about a million more than they were sponsoring in 2010 before the Syrian civil war began.  The recently released World Bank bilateral migration index for 2017 shows that Gulf Countries are still sponsoring about 1.2 million Syrians, a 12 percent decline relative to 2013 (Table 1).
Table 1: Syrians Living in Gulf States

These Syrians are technically not “refugees” because Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States are not signatories to the 1951 UNHCR convention that created the modern international refugee system.

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A Moderate Two-Point Plan for Reducing ICE’s Power

July 2, 2018

The abolish ICE movement is spreading among mostly left-wing activists and politicians after the revelation of mass family separations along the U.S. border.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the federal agency charged with enforcing immigration laws in the interior of the United States, not along the border, but public anger is focusing on them regardless.  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said, “The president’s deeply immoral actions have made it obvious we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works.”  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said, “I believe you should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it and build something that actually works.”
Many are attempting to portray

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House Republicans Consider E-Verify Mandate as Part of “Compromise” Bill. What Will Happen When E-Verify Fails to Deliver?

June 25, 2018

House Republicans worked over the weekend to revise the Ryan immigration “compromise” bill in an attempt to bring enough Republicans on board to pass it.  Many restrictionist Republicans in Congress voted against the harsher Securing America’s Future (SAF) Act last week because it granted a path to legal status without citizenship for some Dreamers.  Although SAF did not offer a path to citizenship for Dreamers, some House Republicans voted against it because they consider a grant of legal status of any kind for Dreamers to be amnesty.  The political problem is that Ryan’s “compromise” bill enhances the charge of amnesty because it offers a path to citizenship for a small number of Dreamers.  As a result, House Republicans are considering a national E-Verify mandate to get the

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The White House’s Misleading & Error Ridden Narrative on Immigrants and Crime

June 25, 2018

President Trump recently held an event with some of the relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants in the United States.  Afterward, the White House sent out a press release with some statistics to back up the President’s claims about the scale of illegal immigrant criminality.  The President’s claims are in quotes and my responses follow.
According to a 2011 government report, the arrests attached to the criminal alien population included an estimated 25,000 people for homicide.
Criminal aliens is defined as non-U.S. citizen foreigners, which includes legal immigrants who have not naturalized and illegal immigrants.  The 25,064 homicide arrests he referred to occurred from August 1955 through April 2010 – a 55-year period.  During that time, there were about 934,000 homicides

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The Rising Popularity of Increasing Immigration

June 21, 2018

The most fascinating phenomena of American politics is the increasingly anti-immigration opinions of politicians like Donald Trump that contrasts with an increasingly pro-immigrant public opinion.  Gallup has asked the same poll question on immigration since 1965: “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?”  Gallup’s question does not separate legal from illegal immigration, likely meaning that answers to this question undercount support for increasing legal immigration.  They recently released their 2018 poll results.  The support for increasing legal immigration is at 28 percent – the highest point ever (Figure 1).  Support for increasing immigration is just one point below support for decreasing immigration – well within the 3-point

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Alternatives to Detention Are Cheaper than Universal Detention

June 20, 2018

President Donald Trump recently modified his policy of separating children from their families.  His new executive order requires the children of border crossers to be detained with their family members. Although a slight improvement over family separation, Trump’s decision raises different questions of whether detaining families together violates the 1997 Flores Settlement, whereby children have to be released after 20 days, which would necessitate family separation. The potential Flores problem could be mitigated entirely by Trump if he relied on alternatives to detention (ATD) programs instead of uniform detention of all border crossers. This would allow President Trump to claim that he ended catch and release without detaining migrant families at taxpayer cost.
Immigration and

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USCIS Report Shows that DACA Arrest Rate is Below that of Other U.S. Residents

June 19, 2018

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a report showing that 59,786 DACA-recipients, or about 7.8 percent of the 770,628 people who earned DACA, have been arrested since the program’s creation in 2012.  The report does not indicate convictions, only arrests.  Even worse, the report does not provide the comparable arrest rate for other populations, giving the false impression that that is a high number of arrests for such a small population.  However, some data released in the report does allow for a back of the envelope comparison between the DACA-arrest rate and the arrest rate for the non-DACA population.  The per capita arrest rate of DACA recipients is 46 percent below the non-DACA resident population.  Controlling for age, the arrest rate for

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Another Confusing Federal Report on Immigrant Incarceration

June 12, 2018

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security (DOJ/DHS) will be publishing a quarterly report on immigrant incarceration in federal prisons because of an Executive Order issued by President Trump last year.  The most recent report found that 20 percent of all inmates in federal prison are foreign-born and about 93 percent of them are likely illegal immigrants.  Since immigrants are only about 13.5 percent of the population and illegal immigrants are only about a quarter of all immigrants, many are misreading it and coming away with the impression that foreign-born people are more crime-prone than natives. 
That is simply not true.
This new DOJ/DHS report only includes those incarcerated in federal prisons, which is not a representative sample of all incarcerated persons in the

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Counterterrorism Spending

May 25, 2018

The Stimson Center’s new study group report found that the federal government spent about $2.8 trillion on counterterrorism (CT) activities since 9/11.  The report seeks to account for all federal government spending on CT efforts divided into the four broad categories of defense emergency and overseas contingency operations, war-related state/USAID, other foreign aid, and government-wide Homeland Security.  The defense emergency and overseas contingency operations spending category accounts for about $1.7 trillion or over 60 percent of the $2.8 trillion spent.  War-related state/USAID and other foreign aid account for a relatively small $138 billion and $12 billion, respectively.  Government-wide Homeland Security spending makes up the rest at $978.5 billion since 9/11.
The big

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Immigrant Welfare Consumption: A Response to Richwine

May 24, 2018

Jason Richwine recently published a short criticism of a new brief that Robert Orr and I wrote about immigrant and native benefit levels and use rates for means-tested welfare and entitlement programs.  This is another in a long series of blog post responses between those who support different methods for measuring native and immigrant welfare consumption so the response is wonky and does not revolve around a central question.  The title of Richwine’s criticism is “Obfuscating the Immigrant-Welfare Debate.”  Below, Richwine’s comments will be in quotes and my responses will follow.
“A few years ago I noted that ‘the amnesty movement has turned the political numbers game into an art form, systematically obscuring the trade-offs inherent in immigration policy.’ The movement has reached

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Mandatory E-Verify will Increase Identity Theft

May 22, 2018

Nancy Berryhill, an Acting Commissioner of Social Security, recently testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Social Security on the widespread use of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) beyond their intended function.  Most of her testimony concerned the history of SSNs, past security procedures, and proposed future ones.  In a bizarre sentence that contradicts much of the rest of her testimony, Berryhill stated that, “Mandatory use of E-Verify by employers would help reduce the incidence of fraudulent use of SSNs.”  That is exactly backward.  Mandatory E-Verify will greatly expand the fraudulent use of SSNs.
E-Verify is an electronic employment eligibility verification system run by the federal government that is supposed to check the identity information of new hires against

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The State of Immigration Enforcement

May 16, 2018

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

May 2, 2018

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

April 24, 2018

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

April 23, 2018

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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