Producer Notes - Nowrasteh 4/25

Economic arguments favoring increased immigration restrictions suggest that immigrants undermine the culture, institutions, and productivity of destination countries. But is this actually true? Nowrasteh and Powell systematically analyze cross-country evidence of potential negative effects caused by immigration relating to economic freedom, corruption, culture, and terrorism. They analyze case studies of mass immigration to the United States, Israel, and Jordan. Their evidence does not support the idea that immigration destroys the institutions responsible for prosperity in the modern world. This nonideological volume makes a qualified case for free immigration and the accompanying prosperity.

Economist Book Review:

BIO - Alex Nowrasteh


Alex Nowrasteh is the director of immigration studies and the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies. His popular publications have appeared in the Wall Street JournalUSA Today, the Washington Post, and most other major publications in the United States.

His peer‐reviewed academic publications have appeared in the World Bank Economic Review, the Journal of Economic BehaviorOrganization, Public Choice, and others. Nowrasteh regularly appears on Fox News, MSNBC, Bloomberg, NPR, and numerous television and radio stations across the United States.

He is the coauthor (with Benjamin Powell) of the book Wretched Refuse? The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions (Cambridge University Press, 2020), which is the first book on how economic institutions in receiving countries adjust to immigration. He is also the coauthor (with Mark S. Krikorian) of the booklet Open Immigration: Yea and Nay (Encounter Broadsides, 2014) and has contributed numerous book chapters about immigration to various edited volumes.

He is a native of Southern California and received a BA in economics from George Mason University and an MS in economic history from the London School of Economics.

Main topics


Jack Herrera, 4/13/21

Biden's rhetoric seems welcoming, and some of his policies are encouraging to would-be immigrants, but the strict policies still remain in effect from the Trump administration.

In the weeks after Joe Biden's inauguration, migrants across the city of Tijuana began to leave the various shelters and apartments where they'd been living in favor of an open-air encampment. By early March, it had grown into a shantytown of more than 1,000 people, and today as many as 2,000 migrants. The only options available at the moment are to keep sticking it out in squalid and often unsafe conditions until they're eventually let into the U.S. or to try to make their own way across the border.

When people don’t have the option to enter lawfully, they’re going to eventually try to come unlawfully. And the fact that the president has laid out no real timeline for getting American immigration laws back to normal is just going to increase the uncertainty and illegality of actions along the border.
By Alex Nowrasteh

Friedman’s recent column titled “We Need a High Wall With a Big Gate on the Southern Border” was correct in many libertarian-adjacent ways. Much of his column could have been based off original Cato research. …

He gets the causality reversed: A big gate protects us more than a high wall. As my colleagues and I have noted, expanding legal immigration is the only way to get sustainable control over the border as new visas channel would-be illegal immigrants into the legal system.

… From 2000-2018, when the U.S. increased the number of lower-skilled H-2 visas issued to Mexican migrants, the number of illegal immigrant Mexicans who crossed the border dropped dramatically. We estimate that every three visas issued to Mexicans reduced the number of Mexican illegal immigrant apprehensions by two because they were driven into the legal market.

My position is that expanding legal immigration is good for the United States and is the only sustainable way to have immigration enforcement policies that work, reduce chaos, and increase the perceptions of government control over the border.…

…Friedman then writes that, “I wish we could take in everyone suffering in the world and give each a shot at the American dream, but we can’t while maintaining our own social cohesion, which is already fraying badly enough.” This is exactly the topic of my new book (with Benjamin Powell) Wretched Refuse? The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions. Using original empirical research, peer reviewed papers by others, and a mass of qualitative evidence, we seek to answer the question of whether immigrants undermine the political, economic, and social institutions of the countries where they settle.…

Friedman then raises his most important political point: Border chaos reduces support for legal immigration. That is consistent with what we’ve written and the academic literature. More people oppose immigration when they think it’s chaotic and the government has lost control over the border. That is certainly what’s happened now on the U.S.-Mexico border.

My position is that expanding legal immigration is good for the United States and is the only sustainable way to have immigration enforcement policies that work, reduce chaos, and increase the perceptions of government control over the border.

Friedman makes many dubious points about the Cold War, national threat assessments, and other drivers of immigration that I won’t touch on. But some of his core points and evidence could have been written by me or other Cato scholars:

  1. We need more legal immigration,
  2. More legal immigration is related to increasing security at the border (but probably not in the way Friedman claims),
  3. Perceptions of government control and chaos at the border are important drivers of public opinion and policy, and
  4. Increasing legal immigration will help the United States in the growing geopolitical competition with China.

It is very difficult to immigrate legally!

Texas has both high immigration and high rule of law – it is a Republican state, with low crime.

by Billy Binion
Prosecutors should not rule out formally charging misdemeanor border crossers but instead "take into account other individualized factors," wrote Wilkinson, "including personal circumstances and criminal history, the seriousness of the offense, and the probable sentence or other consequences that would result from a conviction." It's certainly an upgrade from a zero tolerance approach, which, true to its name, was without any nuance or mercy. But it still gives the federal government wide latitude in deciding which mothers and fathers get to stay with their children, and expressly does not eliminate the possibility that they could be separated—perhaps forever—simply for crossing a literal line in the sand. "It's still difficult to ask for asylum at ports of entry," says Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. "You have to basically try to sneak into the country illegally and ask a Border Patrol agent. But by doing that you commit a federal crime." The approach has come to define the U.S. immigration system, in that the vast majority of legal avenues are inaccessible to the bulk of would-be immigrants, thus incentivizing illegal behavior. Nowrasteh notes that such a measure—separating families—makes sense for parents charged with "murder, theft, terrorism charges, [and] other types of serious crimes." But those who merely cross the border conceivably don't deserve to lose their children.
On that front, I offer one piece of advice when implementing the above policies: Do so in a way to increase the perceptions of government control of immigration and reduce the perceptions of chaos in the immigration system. The political psychology literature is clear on this point: Voters tend to oppose any policy where they think the government does not have control of the situation and where they perceive that there is chaos. Perceptions of greater chaos and less government control over immigration reduce support for legal immigration. Migrant caravans, Border Patrol agents firing tear gas, and disorderly crowds that create chaos that frightens people.



Long form interview - start around 5 minute mark. First hour focuses on immigration.

Key points

  • The policy of allowing minors to stay if they are not accompanied by family incentivizes separation of children from their families.
  • Wretched Refuse? takes up the question of whether immigrants change the culture and make America less libertarian and free over time - i.e., voting for socialism, welfare benefits, or Latin American strongmen? Powell and Nowrasteh find that to the contrary, that more immigrants tend to correlate with more economic liberty.
  • When the public senses chaos, they want a crackdown, even though the crackdown results in a more strict policy and exacerbates the crisis.
  • Border towns in Texas with majority hispanic populations are also upset by the chaos.
  • Immigrants complain of a lack of clarity on what the law actually is. They want to know how to come legally, but they are not given a straight answer.
  • U.S. policy under Trump was to put pressure on Mexico and other countries to stop immigrants at their own borders. In 2015, there was a large caravan who took a train up from Central America. In 2018 and 2019 there were more large caravans of immigrants.
  • The crisis goes back several administrations, with stomach-churning conditions in detention facilities.
  • Over 500,000 immigrants are apprehended crossing the border and send back across. They used to be charged with a misdemeanor but that's no longer the case. Nowrasteh has mixed feelings, because he believes it's a victimless crime, but it also has made it more attractive to try repeatedly.
  • It's hard to cross the border without Border Patrol knowing about it. But they are stretched so thin they can't catch everyone.
  • The price of getting smuggled across the border has increased 10x in the last 15 years or so. Now costs $10,000, yet poor people in Central America are paying the price for the opportunity to come.
  • People aren't coming for measly welfare benefits like food stamps. they are coming for economic opportunity so they can send money back home.
  • No one coming across the border illegally has committed an act of terrorism.
  • Immigration depresses wages in certain job categories - low skilled labor, meat packing plants, etc.
  • "The Great Replacement Theory" is a phrase used by white supremacists to describe outsiders coming in to change the culture and politics. Tucker Carlson used the word "replacement" and has been accused of pandering to racists.
  • Republicans are talking out of two sides of their mouth - they say that hispanics who voted for Trump are the future of the party, but also say that democrats are trying to flood the country with new democratic voters.
  • European countries seem to be having their cultures changed by immigration from Africa and the Middle East, but the U.S. is less changed by immigration.
    • Governments in Europe pay immigrants not to work and not to assimilate.
    • The native culture in Europe is different than the U.S.
      • The U.S. is more creedal - it's not a nationstate. France is land of the Franks. Germany is land of the Germanic people.

Biden is considering cash payment to people in the northern triangle in Mexico to get them to stay home. Alex notes you would have to increase their wages by 2-3x to stop the incentive for them to come.

Encourage free trade, end the drug war, and liberalize immigration.

"Build a wall around the welfare state."

Biden inherited bad policies and made them worse. Surge in unaccompanied minors is incentivized by policy of not sending people home if they don't have adults with them. Media blackout is egregious. President is hamstrung by 150 years of immigration law. The solution is not deporting more people, or sending money to central American countries, but reforming the immigration system so people can come legally. We have no policy, but only a series of executive orders

Past Shows' Notes:

Economic Costs/Benefits

Immigrants become more 4x productive through access to capital in U.S.

As Julian Simon noted, human ingenuity is the ultimate resource, therefore a higher population is better.


“Immigrants do not compete for a fixed supply of jobs but instead help improve the pace of employment and economic growth. In short, immigration boosts the supply side of the U.S. economy by increasing the number of workers and stimulating the growth of firms, while also stimulating the demand side by raising consumption of goods and services.”

There is heated debate over a very small decline in native wages but only for workers without a HS diploma, and only about 2%:

“According to the most negative estimate in the peer-reviewed academic literature, immigrants increased native wages by 0.6 percent overall and caused them to fall for high school dropouts by about 1.7 percent from 1990 through 2010.”


“Immigrants mostly pay for their own consumption of government services or slightly decrease government deficits – especially in the longer run.”

This is partly because undocumented workers pay in but do not receive benefits from Social Security, Medicare, etc.

Immigrants voting themselves benefits? Data suggests not:

“Since 1970, no pattern can be seen between the size of benefits a family of three can receive under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the level of immigration or increased ethnic and racial diversity caused by immigration. Controlling for other factors, in 2010 a California family of three could receive $ 694 a month in TANF benefits. But in Texas, an identical family could receive only $ 260. The size of the Hispanic population in each state is the same: 39 percent. For every California or New York with many immigrants, a diverse population, and a vast welfare state, there is a Florida or a Texas with similar demographics but a smaller welfare state.


Immigration flows have shrunk dramatically as a percentage of the population:

“About one million legal immigrants come annually, the same number as in 1910, when the United States had about 71 percent fewer people.”

Elizabeth Hull of Rutgers University wrote that, “With only a small degree of hyperbole, the immigration laws have been termed ‘second only to the Internal Revenue Code in complexity.’ A lawyer is often the only person who could thread the labyrinth.”

“You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. … Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.” – Ronald Reagan

The authors of the Declaration of Independence complained that King George III “endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither.” The American colonists were upset that immigration was unduly restricted and that naturalization laws made it difficult for them to buy land and be productive in their new home.”


Even though numbers of people apprehended crossing the border is surging, the absolute number of criminals apprehended is declining. A large proportion of the people crossing the border are women and children – less likely to be criminals.

Very in depth statistical analysis of crime rates – showing that hispanic crime rates are on par with those of whites.

This brief uses ACS data to estimate the incarceration rate and other demographic characteristics for immigrants ages 18–54 in 2017.


An update and expansion of Nowrasteh's original policy analysis from 2016, Cato's latest policy includes 788 native‐born terrorists from 1975 to 2017. Moreover, the ideologies that motivated them are categorized into Islamism, Right, White Supremacy, Left, Black Nationalism, Anti‐abortion, Unknown/Other, Foreign Nationalism (Armenian terrorists targeting Turks in revenge for the genocide), Separatists (Puerto Rican independence, Texas secessionists, etc.), Anti‐specific Religion (anti‐Semitic shooters, etc.), Political Assassination, and Religious (non‐Islamist).

"The main lesson from this report is that there are very few terrorists of any ideology or origin and even fewer who manage to murder Americans.

The ideology, frequency, deadliness, and origins of terrorists are fascinating but these numbers are so small that it is difficult to tease out any trend, let alone to be overwhelmed by fear."

Nowrasteh researched terrorist attacks – 98% of 3300 deaths from terrorist immigrants are accounting by 9/11

1 in 3.8 million.

9/11 terrorists had travel visas, suggesting we are looking at the wrong point of entry if we focus on the border wall.

Also, most illegal immigrants came in the country legally.


One difference between current waves of immigration is that they are not being held in quarantine at places like Ellis Island, and the numbers crossing the border might make that difficult or impossible.

SLPC is worried about the legal rights of quarantined individuals.

Detainees at Pine Prairie Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in Louisiana were quarantined for two weeks in January and February. Lawyers said the illness did not stop immigration court proceedings. Detention center officials told lawyers that the lockdown was aimed at preventing the spread of mumps, which has an incubation period of 12 to 25 days.

The 25-day quarantine began March 7 at facilities in Pine Prairie, Louisiana, and Aurora, Colorado.

Mumps is extremely rare, and infections have dropped by 99 percent since vaccinations began in the 1960s. The outbreak has renewed long-held concerns over access to medical care at immigration facilities.

271 detainees are quarantined in four pods in the Aurora facility. It's difficult for immigrants to access their attorneys.



After debunking the myth of hispanic crime, Alex gives data on the infinitesimal rate of terrorists coming across the border.

Hilariously, Alex notes that indoctrination in multiculturalism is unlikely, because schools are so poor at teaching anything:

“Multiculturalism or other left-wing cultural movements aren’t currently weakening assimilation, but they could if two other facts change. The first is that the public schools would have to become effective at teaching these ideas — and they have a hard-enough time teaching children to read as it is.”

Alex notes the history of ethnic lobbies far more ferocious than La Raza (now UnidosUS), including the Knights of Columbus, and the National German-American Alliance:

From its first celebration by Italian immigrants in New York in 1866 to today, Columbus Day has been a point of ethnic pride for many Italian Americans. American conservatives who are most opposed to the corrosive effects of multiculturalism today defend Columbus Day against a modern multicultural lobby that wants it abolished.

These groups apparently never had a critical mass to vote themselves benefits or change the fundamental DNA of the country.