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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

There Is No National Emergency on the Border, Mr. President

February 15, 2019

President Trump today declared a national emergency on the border to construct some portion of his promised border fence.  “We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” President Trump said during his remarks today.   
Lawyers will spill much ink arguing about the legalities surrounding the law and whether President Trump can declare a national emergency.  Regardless of what the law ultimately means, no reasonable person can look at the southern border and agree that it rises to the level of a national emergency.  Below, I will counter the most common arguments made by President Trump and others in support of declaring a national emergency.
Crime
The most common argument in favor of a national emergency is

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El Paso Homicides Spiked After Border Fence Was Completed; The Fence Didn’t Cause It

February 13, 2019

At a recent rally in El Paso, Texas, President Trump again claimed that that city had a high crime rate before a fence was built between it and Mexico in 2008 and 2009.  Many people have pointed out that El Paso has long been a more peaceful city than others, before and after the border fence was built.  This post adds just a few more visuals to hammer home the point made by others and an odd anomaly in homicides.
I constructed the figures using local police department crime data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) database, focusing on departments that policed populations of between 500,000 to 1 million.  That population size was appropriate as El Paso’s population was 683,577 in 2017.  The local police departments variable identifies city police departments in the UCR, but it also

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Fewer than Half of Employment-Based Green Cards Are for Workers

February 7, 2019

In this week’s State of the Union address, President Trump said that he wanted to allow in more legal immigrants and to improve the system.  The United States’ immigration system favors family reunification, even in the so-called employment-based 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.  Instead of a separate green card category for spouses and children, they get a green card that would otherwise go to a skilled worker.  Fixing this would increase skilled immigration, which is one of President Trump’s goals. 
In 2017, 59 percent of all supposed employment-based green cards went to the family members of workers (Chart

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FAIR SCAAP Crime Report Has Many Serious Problems

February 6, 2019

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently released a report on illegal immigrant incarceration rates that is poorly contrived and terribly executed.  FAIR uses the number of illegal immigrants counted under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which compensates local and state governments for incarcerating some illegal immigrants, to calculate the illegal immigrant incarceration rate.  FAIR finds that illegal immigrants, as measured by the number of SCAAP aliens, are incarcerated at much higher rates than natives and legal immigrants according to their faulty methods. 
There are many problems with FAIR’s report. 
The first problem is that it doesn’t state what year or period of years that it is analyzing.  I can’t even work backward because their

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Response to Barry Latzer’s Criticism of “Criminal Immigrants in Texas”

February 1, 2019

Barry Latzer, Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, wrote a criticism of Cato’s brief on the homicide conviction rate for illegal immigrants in Texas.  My research brief found that the illegal immigrant homicide conviction rate in Texas in 2015 was 2.6 per 100,000 illegal immigrants, which is below the 3.1 per 100,000 rate for native-born Americans, but higher than the 1 per 100,000 rate for legal immigrants.  Professor Latzer mischaracterized my findings and made some other errors that I will discuss below.  His points are in quotes and my responses follow:
“Critics of illegal immigration argue that the crime rates of illegal aliens are higher than those of the American population generally, or at least of legal immigrants.  The New York

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New Immigrants Are More Culturally Different than They Used to Be

January 17, 2019

Native-born American concerns about immigration are primarily about how immigration will affect the culture of the country as a whole and, to a lesser extent, how the newcomers will affect the economy.  One’s personal economic situation is not a major factor.  It’s reasonable to assume that the degree of cultural difference between native-born Americans and new immigrants affects the degree of cultural concern.  Thus, Americans would likely be less concerned over immigrants from Canada or Singapore than they would be over immigrants from Egypt or Azerbaijan. 
A large team of psychologists recently created an index of the cultural distance of people from numerous countries around the world relative to the United States.  The index is constructed from responses to the World Values

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Crime Along the Mexican Border is Lower Than in the Rest of the Country

January 8, 2019

Crime along the border and national security will be major themes in President Trump’s upcoming address where he will likely make the case for declaring a national emergency to build his wall.  Shocking images and anecdotes of crime along the border fuel this narrative, but rarely are facts deployed to make the case.  We’ve addressed the terrorism and crime arguments frequently, but only rarely touch on border crime.  Border counties have far less crime per capita than American counties that are not along the border. 
If the entire United States in 2017 had crime rates identical to those in counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, there would have been 5,720 fewer homicides, 159,036 fewer property crimes, and 99,205 fewer violent crimes across the entire country.  If the entire United

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The Cost of the Border Wall Keeps Climbing and It’s Becoming Less of a Wall

January 8, 2019

Social scientist Bent Flyvbjerg described the selection of government-funded infrastructure projects as “survival of the unfittest” because proponents of those projects systematically exaggerate the benefits and underestimate the costs.  President Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico provides a striking example of this: A wall along the border with Mexico will likely cost about $59.8 billion to construct.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently sent a letter to Congress where it argued that $5.7 billion would pay for approximately 234 miles of a new physical steel barrier along the border.  That new estimate comes to about $24.4 million per mile.  This new OMB estimate is 41 percent more costly than the approximately $17.3 million per mile construction costs that the

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The Government Doesn’t Understand Its Own Immigration and Crime Data

January 4, 2019

On March 6, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13780.  The order was mostly concerned with reducing the number of immigrants and travelers from certain countries that his administration thought could pose a terror risk.  One portion of that Executive Order called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate the number of terrorist threats and, little noticed at the time, “information regarding the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including so-called ‘honor killings,’ in the United States by foreign nationals.” 
The DOJ-DHS released their report in January 2018 and almost everybody focused on the terrorism portion – including myself and my colleagues here at Cato.  However, thanks to a

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Cato’s 2018 Immigration Research in Review

December 31, 2018

Cato’s immigration policy team was very busy in 2018.  My colleagues David Bier and Andrew Forrester, in addition to some contributions by myself and numerous outside authors like the stupendous Michelangelo Landgrave, worked non-stop to produce almost 180 pieces this year in the form of blog posts, op-eds, Cato research papers, and peer-reviewed academic articles.  David Bier summarized many of these pieces in a twitter thread for those on Twitter. 
Of those, I’m most proud of the pieces that discovered original facts and figures to illuminate the immigration issue.  With rare exceptions, the most valuable immigration policy research is that which produces original facts and figures, as too much of the debate over this topic is emotional and ungrounded.  We are trying to make the

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A Potential Border Wall Compromise

December 20, 2018

President Trump recently backed off his demand for $5 billion in funding for his border wall, likely averting a government shutdown around Christmas.  However, the political debate over funding for border wall will merely reemerge in the New Year.  Besides new court decisions regarding DACA, there is little to break this deadlock.  Some of the suggestions below offer additional avenues on which to negotiate.  
One of President Trump’s persistent claims is that the wall will secure the border and he recently implied that Border Patrol agents are substitutes for such a barrier.  In that case, I have a suggestion for Congressional Democrats who will be negotiating with the President over the wall in the next several years:  If you must fund the wall in exchange for the DREAM Act or DACA,

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Trump Administration Continues to Expand Interior Immigration Enforcement

December 14, 2018

Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report detailing deportations (henceforth “removals”) conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during fiscal year 2018.  This post present data on removals in historical context – combined with information from Pew and the Center for Migration Studies on the number of illegal immigrants present in the United States.
ICE deported 95,360 illegal immigrants from the interior of the United States in 2018, up from 81,603 in 2017.  Removals from the interior peaked during the Obama administration in 2011 at 237,941 (Figure 1).  The Trump administration would have to increase the pace of interior removals dramatically to reach Obama’s previous peak.  Unless something dramatic changes, that won’t happen as local law

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Trump Administration Increases Immigration Enforcement at Businesses

December 14, 2018

President Trump’s administration has increased immigration enforcement at worksites, just as he promised.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 2,304 people at worksites in the fiscal year 2018, a more than 7-fold increase from the previous fiscal year and about 6.7-fold more than the last full year of the Obama administration. 
ICE’s worksite arrests fall into two categories: criminal or administrative.  Any citizen or noncitizen whom ICE suspects of having committed a criminal violation, such as identity fraud, can be arrested.  Administrative arrests are for civil violators of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which means that only non-citizens can be arrested for such violations.  An administrative arrest is usually the first step toward deportation for an

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The United Nations Migration Compact – In Context

December 13, 2018

Some member states of the United Nations just adopted the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”  The compact is a legally non-binding statement of principles regarding the treatment of non-humanitarian immigrants, the sharing of information, support for the rule of law in adjudicating immigration matters, and international cooperation.  Practically, this compact does not amount to much as it is legally non-binding and doesn’t change any laws.  However, the compact has garnered a lot of international attention since the United States, Austria, Australia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia, and the Dominican Republic pulled out of the drafting and negotiation process. 

The obvious context of the contentious debate over the compact is

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The Law of Nations, Sovereign Power Over Immigration, and Asylum: It’s Not As Clear As It Seems

December 7, 2018

Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently struck down a Trump administration policy barring asylum for those who do not enter through a legal port of entry.  Tigar’s major point is that Trump’s order conflicts with a statute that specifically says that those who entered illegally are eligible for asylum.  Despite this temporary ruling against the administration’s asylum order, a higher court will probably approve Trump’s action by invoking I.N.A. 212(f) that, according to the Supreme Court decision in the Travel Ban case, seems to give the president nearly unlimited power to ban whomever he wants from coming here no matter what the rest of the law says.  I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t bet against that outcome.
Some commentators

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Center for Immigration Studies Overstates Immigrant, Non-Citizen, and Native Welfare Use

December 6, 2018

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) just released a new report that purports to show that 63 percent of non-citizen households are on welfare compared to 35 percent of native-born households in 2014.  The purpose of this report was to justify the president’s new public charge rule.  For years, CIS and I have debated this topic and this blog is yet another installment.  Please follow these links to read the previous installments.
There are a few issues with the CIS report and an unsound methodological choice that they made that results in inflating the welfare use rates for immigrants and natives.  I’m just going to make two points below.
First, the welfare use rate reported by CIS is much higher than the welfare use rates estimated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

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Center for Immigration Studies Shows a Very Small Threat from Terrorists Crossing the Mexican Border

November 28, 2018

Todd Bensman, the Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), wrote a recent report entitled “Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?” in which he presents a list of  “15 suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, or en route, since 2001.”  Bensman lists these 15 individuals, some of which don’t have names, and describes their actions.  He writes that his research is based on publicly available information, so it is likely a “significant under-count” of the actual terrorists who entered.  Bensman also writes that “several reports that strongly indicated the crossing of additional migrant terrorism suspects were excluded from this list due to insufficient detail.” 
If the goal of this CIS report was to show how small the terrorist

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Immigration Politics Is About Perceptions of Control, Not Immigration Policy

November 20, 2018

Many major political changes over the last few years are related to immigration. From the rise of Eurosceptic political parties in Germany, France, Italy, and elsewhere, to Brexit, and the U.S. election of Donald Trump, many political commentators are blaming these populist and nationalist political surges on unaddressed anti-immigration sentiment among voters. Although anti-immigration opinions certainly have a role to play in those political upsets, voter feelings of chaos and a lack of control over immigration are likely more important.
President Trump focused his campaign on the “build the wall” chant that capitalized on the perception of chaos at the southwest border where the worst from Mexico were supposedly crossing. His campaign platform called for cutting legal immigration,

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The Migrant Caravan, Central America, and Vaccination Rates

November 1, 2018

Many commentators have recently written and said that members of the migrant caravan and Central American immigrants in general are diseased.  Former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent David Ward claimed that the migrants are “coming in with diseases such as smallpox,” a disease that the World Health Organization (WHO) certified as being eradicated in 1980.  One hopes Mr. Ward was more careful in enforcing American immigration law than in spreading rumors that migrants are carrying one of the deadliest diseases in human history nearly 40 years after it was eradicated from the human population.  But even on other diseases, Ward and others do not have a compelling argument.
WHO has national estimates of vaccination coverage rates by country and type of vaccine.  It’s unclear

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Ridiculous Claims in Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism

November 1, 2018

President Trump recently said, “I’m a nationalist. OK? I’m a nationalist.”  Trump didn’t give a definition of what a nationalist is or what that ideology entails.  Fortunately, political theorist Yoram Hazony recently wrote The Virtue of Nationalism where he attempted to define and present a persuasive argument in favor of nationalism.  This was a worthy goal as nationalism is currently a popular political ideology.  The time is right for a book that defines nationalist and coherently and consistently makes the case for it.  Unfortunately, The Virtue of Nationalism is not that book. 
Other reviewers have identified its many problems, so instead of writing another review, I’m going to list some ridiculous claims that Hazony makes in his book and some of the logical implications of

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The Migrant Caravan Probably Doesn’t Contain Many Criminals

October 30, 2018

One concern about the caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the U.S. border is that it may contain criminals. Although we don’t know the identities or criminal histories of the actual people in the caravan, we can get an indication by looking at estimates of the incarceration rates of immigrants in the United States who come from the Central American countries where the caravan originated.
Hondurans are likely the largest contingent in the caravan. The Honduran incarceration rate in the United States was 1,130 per 100,000 Hondurans in 2016 (Figure 1). The incarceration rate of native-born Americans is about 25 percent higher than for those born in Honduras at 1,498 per 100,000 natives. In 2016, the incarceration rate for immigrants from all of Mexico and Central

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President Trump Isn’t Breaking Immigration Arrest Records

October 25, 2018

President Trump has made no secret about his intentions to deport illegal immigrants. His statements as well as administrative actions to remove certain guidelines that focused enforcement efforts on criminals has understandably caused a lot of concern among illegal immigrants, their American families, and those concerned with their plight. They should take comfort that the Trump administration’s efforts to boost arrests, the necessary precursor to a deportation, are stymied by limited local and state law enforcement cooperation with the federal government when it comes to identifying illegal immigrants.
Recently released data on the number of arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows that they are arresting many fewer illegal immigrants under Trump’s administration

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President Trump Again Orders Troops to the Border

October 25, 2018

President Trump recently said that he would deploy troops to the Mexican border in response to the 3,000-4,000 Central American migrants and asylum seekers who are walking to the U.S. border.  This follows President Trump’s earlier deployment of about 4,000 National Guardsmen (2,100 troops remain) to the border to respond to another caravan earlier this year.  American Presidents have ordered troops to the border to assist in immigration enforcement several times when the flow of illegal immigrants was significantly greater than it is today.  Deploying additional troops to deal the approaching migrant caravan is unjustified and unnecessary. 
Previous U.S. presidents have deployed troops to the U.S. border to assist in immigration enforcement and drug interdiction.  The first such

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Does the Migrant Caravan Pose a Terrorism Risk?

October 23, 2018

Yesterday, President Trump tweeted that “unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with the migrant caravan approaching the U.S. border. Vice President Pence later tried to justify President Trump’s comment by arguing that, “It is inconvincible that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border.” Todd Bensman of the Center for Immigration Studies wrote that “the president was obviously referencing … ‘special interest aliens’ … U.S.-bound migrants moving along well-established Latin America smuggling routes from [Muslim] countries.” Perhaps President Trump was referencing special interest aliens but the clear implication is that they are potential terrorists who are using the caravan to sneak into the United States and

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Police Clearance Rates Are Not Lower in States with Many Illegal Immigrants

October 23, 2018

Immigrant criminality and its impact on the United States is one of the most important issues in the public debate over immigration. In order to provide new insight into this topic, my coauthor Michelangelo Landgrave and I have attempted to estimate the illegal immigrant incarceration rate. I have also written a short paper on Texas criminal conviction rates by immigration status and crime based on data provided by the state of Texas. All three papers found that illegal immigrants were less likely to be convicted or incarcerated for crimes than native-born Americans.
My paper on illegal immigrant crime rates in Texas is based on data from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) that I obtained through a Public Information Act request. The Texas DPS data separately show the number

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

October 10, 2018

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

September 26, 2018

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?

September 24, 2018

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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